The legend: The daughter, Koong-se, of a wealthy Mandarin falls in love with an accountant of a different social class. The father builds a high fence to keep the unwanted suitor out because he was arranging for the daughter to marry a powerful Duke. Duke arrives on a boat with jewels, they marry on the day the blossom falls from the willow tree.
The accountant imposes as a servant in the palace, the lovers run away with the jewels over a bridge, chased by the father with a whip in hand. The lovers escape to a secluded island, but the Duke finds out and sends soldiers to kill them in revenge. The gods are impressed with the lovers plight and turn them into doves.
Usage: An early Chinoiserie pattern of blue on white in porcelain dinner wear. Contains two birds, a tea house, river, bridge, fence, and a willow tree - all bordered by a scroll and geometric design on the flange.
History: Originally imported from China to Britain, Thomas Minton (Minton-ware) proliferated the Willow Pattern in his Stoke-upon-Trent pottery factory. Willow Pattern was engraved and designed by Minton in 1780 for Thomas Turner of Caughley, Shropshire, and quickly replicated by Royal Worcester, Spode, Adams, Wedgwood, Davenport, Clews, Leeds and Swansea.
Variations: "Willow" is a stock name for an iconic Dutch delft blue on white porcelain dinner wear, often replicated in burgundy, green, and black.
Pattern Type: Stylistic
On a recent sojourn to my Mecca, New York City, I stumbled into a retailer, Fishs Eddy. Located in the 10's just north of Union Square at 19th and Broadway, Fishs Eddy inspired me so deeply that I still think about the hour and a half I spent wandering in the store. I've kinda fallen in love with Fishs Eddy, just a bit, okay maybe a lot. One of the dinner ware patterns stuck out like sore thumb, and it was vintage: Blue Willow.
Blue Willow brings back fond memories of my past. For some reason or other my mother received collector plates in an inspired style in delft blue, one such was from Niagara Falls... honeymoon territory. When I was in Art School I worked part-time in a Tea Room in Winnipeg and we served everything in and on Blue Willow. Late nights, polishing big silver tea pots, the best Gingerbread Cake I've ever tasted in my entire life. I tried to get the recipe, but even in the 90's it was under lock and key. I'd been going to The Tea Cozy since I was really young and it was fun to work there.
There have been many uses of the Blue Willow pattern in design history because it is iconic and classic. It has popped up in wallpaper, runways, and (lord forbid) aprons, but what is more interesting is how we are now taking what was old and making it new, in our own authentic way. So we have seemingly begun to re-interpret the Blue Willow, re-use it, and letting it morph into something new. Life imitates art far more than art imitates life, said Oscar Wilde.
One company is taking the timeless blue on white and going graphic, and we all know I love graffiti! Lovegrove & Repucci offers two variations on the pattern, but New York Delft is by far the most stunning. The pattern features a tagged graffiti with iconic NYC staples, like a taxi cab. There is a London Delft set as well, and they sell the 5pc set for $100. They have a cute Roadshow spoof video, which can be found here.
U.K. Artist Karen Ryan's second hand project is a genre reflection using text and patterns where "[she] damages second hand old plates. [She] remove the decorative patterns that camouflage our everyday lies and in its place [she] leave words that prick our conscience and create portraits of hidden domestics left open for others to interpret." Ryan claims to pick up the Blue Willow pattern far to often in her work. You should really take a look. It is a very inspiring project. (second hand project via Flickr)
I don't usually go to this extent, but this one involves reality television, so please forgive me now. But. Prince Poppycock performed Bohemian Rhapsody completely in a delft blue, dutch-morphed, Blue Willow patterning set on America's Got Talent last year. (Is it just me, or should it really be "America Has Talent"?) This was a complete cross-over from traditional patterns into a contemporary performance by a brilliant artist.
Like art, design is subjective but I think more over it is what you make of it. It is wonderful to see inspiration drawn from a pattern that is over 200 years old, and it is equally inspiring to see Blue Willow resurfacing for a revival and carefully loved and used for what it was intended. A love story.
Well, that turned out differently than I thought it would.