John Bennett

British ceramist John Bennett is celebrated for his decorative works with natural motifs and painterly flair, as well as for his role in introducing the Aesthetic Movement to an American audience. Born in 1840, Bennett trained in Staffordshire and, in the early 1870s, joined London’s Doulton & Co., where he served as director of the Faience Department. In this role, Bennett led an initiative to teach women his unique underglazing technique. According to the Brooklyn Museum, “This allowed women to gain a degree of economic independence in an era when they could not vote or readily own property.”

Works created with Bennett’s decorative glazing method were exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876, where they received ample praise. Encouraged by this success, Bennett immigrated to New York City a year later in 1877, where he launched his own ceramics business. At first, Bennett imported English biscuit from the U.K., but would soon transition to using clay native to his region in making his “Bennett ware.” Blending Asian, Aesthetic Movement, and Arts and Crafts Movement influences, Bennett created works that became highly sought after. As E.A. Barber observed, “The shapes were simple and generally devoid of handles or moulded ornaments. The decorations consisted chiefly of flowers and foliage, drawn from nature in a vigorous and ornate style, and painted with very few touches.”

In 1878, Bennett joined New York’s newly established Society of Decorative Art in a teaching role, and was succeeded by Charles Volkmar the next year. Bennett retired in 1883, moving to a New Jersey farmstead where he created relatively few new ceramic pieces, instead offering private art classes. Today, Bennett’s works are held in many important institutional collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the Brooklyn Museum.

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