Remembering Joan

by Peter Eaton

Joan Brownstein and Peter Eaton in their Newbury, MA home, c. 2005

Joan had always been a collector. She started buying netsukes on Saturday trips as a child, moved on to sea shells, then Bakelite, and also art books, which became a lifelong pursuit. About thirty years ago she started buying geodes and fossils, building a collection she sold to an artist and jeweler who used them in his designs. 

A little over twenty years ago, she came across the Scheier's work on a trip to the Currier Gallery in Manchester, NH and she was hooked. She took a standing case of their work to the New Hampshire Antiques Show and sold the entire contents to one person. She then assembled another grouping and took it to the Folk Art Show in NYC—where she again sold the entire case to one individual.  As her reputation for Scheier grew, she began advertising it in national trade publications and was asked to exhibit it as part of our booth at the Winter Show in NYC. Contemporaneously, she discovered the work of Brother Thomas Bezanson at the Pucker Gallery in Boston and began collecting his work. Then she expanded her interest to the work of other, more experimental potters and ceramicists from the last quarter of the 20th century.

Joan holding one the Scheier vases in the present sale

Underlying these new interests was her thirty year quest with Chinese pottery from the Song period. This primarily ‘black and brown’ ware was made in many forms and was treated with a number of glazes. Tea bowls are the best known and most prized of this work, and it was Joan’s goal to have an example of every glaze pictured in the catalogs of museum collections and exhibitions. Joan continued to add additional forms of the ware, fascinated by the variety of shapes, glazes and slip decoration that the potters were able to attain with so few ingredients. Whether it was simply the shape of the piece, a pale blue/green base, ribbed vessels, cups and bowls with white rims, or pieces drizzled with a thin blue slip, it all fascinated her.  

Joan was first and foremost an artist, and what she responded to in pottery was its artistic and aesthetic quality. 

Joan was first and foremost an artist, and what she responded to in pottery was its artistic and aesthetic quality. She described her antiques business as a way to be a “serial collector”: buying, assembling, and selling what struck her eye. This collection is a result of her passion for art. Her Chinese pottery, in particular, is the largest collection of Song black and brown ware to be sold at one time in many years, and some of the tea bowls rival those in any museum collection. Many of the other forms are the only examples that she had seen.

Courage doesn’t have anything to do with becoming an artist. It’s just something you want to do. I think it’s inside you.

Mary Scheier

Edwin and Mary Scheier

Husband and wife duo Edwin and Mary Scheier enjoyed a prolific and prodigious career that spanned nearly six decades. Their lifelong collaboration began in the late 1930s when they worked for the federal Works Progress Administration. Not long after, the two married and then spent a year as traveling puppeteers before obtaining the opportunity to study ceramics at the Tennessee Valley Authority Ceramic Laboratory. The rest, as they say, is history; the couple fell in love with pottery, Mary becoming incredibly adept at throwing pots, and Edwin at glazing and decoration.

In 1940 they relocated to Durham, New Hampshire at the behest of architect David R. Campbell to work at the University of New Hampshire, where Edwin taught and Mary was artist-in-residence. They settled in and stayed for nearly thirty years, garnering a dedicated following of students and clients, and periodically taking trips to Oaxaca, Mexico to soak up the ancient culture and design. Edwin and Mary moved to Oaxaca full-time in the late 1960s where they lived and worked for nearly ten years before making their final move to Green Valley, Arizona. While in Oaxaca, Edwin branched out into weavings and sculpture, working in indigenous guanacaste wood and designing tapestries that were then woven by local craftspeople.

The Scheiers developed a distinctive style that, though it evolved over time, is immediately recognizable. Common themes ranged from biblical to pre-Columbian to abstract, drawing from their many travels and exposure to different cultures and styles. Mary’s thin-walled, elegantly shaped vessels illustrate her mastery of the wheel and her admiration for Japanese and Chinese ceramic traditions, while Edwin’s abstract designs display a nuanced understanding of fine art balanced with a playfulness reflecting his sense of humor. Their individual strengths combined into a dynamic synergism of form and decoration. The couple continued to work and create even into the last decade of their lives. In fact, when Edwin was forced to give up throwing pots due to his health, he acquired a computer and began making computer drawings using similar themes to those of his pots.

Through their tireless dedication to their craft, this impressive duo left behind an indelible imprint on the development and history of American ceramics. Their work can be found in the permanent collections of many important institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Auction Results Edwin and Mary Scheier