BLUE WILLOW and Blue Canton are china patterns that have been around for a long time, at least since the West figured out there was a China.* It’s classic, staid, even old-fashioned. So when Pittsburgh artist Don Moyer inherited some Blue Willow china and launched his delightfully subversive Calamityware in 2011, it could have been seen as a poke in the eye of tradition. But Moyer’s take on the familiar blue-and-white dishes is so respectful, while being playful, that even traditionalists may want to mix a few of his versions in with their old, familiar stuff.
I focused a lot on dessert-size plates. They’re a chance to play with your food (or at least your table), and as LittleBird Kathy Legg put it, Dessert plates are the powder room of the dinner table—a little something to have fun with.
Calamities, clockwise from top left: a plague of frogs, a rampaging Sasquatch, brain-eating zombie poodles and a pterodactyl.
So what are the calamities recorded in Calamityware? Well, surely it would be a calamity if the peaceful little Cantonese village depicted were to be attacked by brain-eating zombie poodles, right? Or if there were to be a plague of frogs, or if the kitty in the temple garden were targeted by a pterodactyl or a Sasquatch jogging through. Peaceful settings on other Calamityware porcelain dishes are imperiled by flying saucers, giant robots, sea monsters, even a volcano . . . or a pirate ship! For most of the designs, you have to look carefully to discern the danger, hence their charm.
There are three series of four 10½-inch porcelain dinner dishes, each set $150 at Calamityware.
A charming set of 7-inch porcelain dessert plates features four of the most unlikely monkey orchestra members (but who ever thought the classic Vienna bronze monkey band made sense anyway?). The set of four Dubious Musicians is $48 at Calamityware.
Moyer isn’t the only designer who has been fooling around with blue-and-white patterns.
Royal Copenhagen has been making its classic Blue Fluted porcelain since 1775, some patterns restyled in the 1880s. Crisp and ladylike, Blue Fluted has fans all over the world. But in 2000, a young design student named Karen Kjældgård Larsen “exploded” the classic pattern to create Blue Fluted Mega, where the elements of the pattern are so large that only portions appear on each piece. Royal Copenhagen calls it “an elegant disruption” of the historical original. A more recent Blue Palmette strikes another contemporary note.
LEFT: Royal Copenhagen’s porcelain Blue Fluted Mega, from 2000, is $110 for the 8¾-inch Salad Plate #2, at Bloomingdale’s.
CENTER: The classic porcelain Blue Fluted Full Lace from Royal Copenhagen is $275 for a 7.5-inch plate at Royal Copenhagen.
RIGHT: Blue Palmette, almost 8 inches across, is porcelain and $80 at Royal Copenhagen, which sees Blue Palmette as ideal for an Asian-inspired table setting.
A more casual and rustic take on the antique Blue Willow comes from Pottery Barn. Its Sophia Boat and Village salad plates are stoneware and on sale for $2.99 each at Pottery Barn. The patterns are also available in dinner-plate size, mugs and serving platters.
Back in traditional mode, the Spode Blue Home Zoological Plates nail the blue-and-white classic look in stoneware, with a witty difference: In the center of each lurks a Camel or Kangaroo (shown above), or a Rhino, Tiger, Ostrich or Zebra. The plates are not that easy to find, but you can try to collect them on eBay or at Replacements, from about $16 to $20 per plate. I just like the idea of a camel under the mashed potatoes.
Keeping the blue-and-white spirit going are two contemporary offerings, though, now that I think about it, the Juliska piece is more likely inspired by Italian or Portuguese pottery than by the ancient Blue Willow.
LEFT: Juliska’s Iberian Journey Indigo stoneware salad/dessert plate is $28 at Bloomingdale’s.
RIGHT: The exuberant Bloom bone-china salad plate from Williams-Sonoma is $25. The coordinating dinner plate has a different version of the flower motif.
LEFT: The Marchesa by Lenox Couture Sapphire Plume 8-inch bone-china salad plate, accented with platinum, is $38.99 at Bed Bath and Beyond.
RIGHT: From Noritake, the Blue Sorrentino 8-inch cake plate in bone china with a gold band is $25 at Noritake.
* Wikipedia tells us that the Chinese began making the iconic porcelain plates after Muslim traders introduced them to cobalt. It took Europeans a couple of centuries to figure out how to produce porcelain; many Blue Willow and Blue Canton pieces are English and made of earthenware or stoneware.