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.

I struggle to express my intuition of the beautiful. I want my work to be as much a spiritual experience for others as it is for me.

Brother Thomas Bezanson

Brother Thomas Bezanson

“The art object is a symbol of that no-thing interior experience; a world-energy intuitively known but symbolically communicated. What is made out of the singular experience of the artist becomes a communal experience of the all humanity, a wonder in itself…It is not the primary commission of art to make things, but to move hearts.” – Brother Thomas, This is the Day, Pucker Gallery, 2005

Brother Thomas wrote and reflected upon his creativity as much as he enacted it. His sense of wonder, discovery, and reverence are reflected in his work, and led him to create the powerful forms and illuminous glazes for which he is known. Originally from Halifax, Canada, Brother Thomas entered the Benedictine Monastery in Weston, Vermont in 1959, already having begun working in clay by 1953. By 1985, he became an artist-in-residence at Mount Saint Benedict in Erie Pennsylvania, where he remained for the rest of his life.

In 1978, Brother Thomas traveled to Japan and met five potters who had been designated as Living National Treasures. One can readily see the influence of Japanese traditions in his choice and application of glazes, use of the raku firing process, and forms employed such as the tea bowl. He worked exclusively in porcelain, a particularly difficult medium to manipulate when creating larger forms such as his millennial eggs, larger vases, and vessels. Many pieces – it is said nearly 90% –were destroyed, either by his own hand or during the firing process. Brother Thomas was a true experimenter and did not settle for anything less than perfection, as evidenced in the surviving examples whose qualities embody harmony, balance, and elegance. He created a dazzling array of glazes, such as his red copper, opalescent celadon, honan tenmoku, and a variety of textured glazes. His work is included in the collections of over 80 institutions worldwide, including Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Auction Results Brother Thomas Bezanson