Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "The Xanadu Flask"

This poem is from the September 3, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired and sponsored by [personal profile] ng_moonmoth. It also fills the "xanadu (gray-green)" square in my 9-3-19 card for the Arts and Crafts Festival bingo. This poem belongs to the series Arts and Crafts America.

"The Xanadu Flask"

The Arts and Crafts Movement
began in Britain and soon spread
through Europe and North America.

In Japan, it became Mingei,
or the arts of the people.

Collectors began to gather
the lowly pots from the Edo
and Meiji periods, once used
by commoners and now rapidly
disappearing as Japan urbanized.

Some potters and other crafters
fled Japan, repelled by the rise of
militarism and imperial propaganda.

One such group arrived in America,
where they made ceramic dishware
whose homey beauty and low cost
appealed to the people who could
no longer afford to shop in stores.

The potters traveled around,
making and selling ceramics
wherever they wandered.

Because they did not put
their names on anything
that they made, any one of
them could sell all of it while
the others kept working.

The potters developed
a distinctive gray-green glaze
whose color came to characterize
the Mingei movement in America.

They called it xanadu, and it
became as famous as China blue.

Over time, more and more crafters --
some Japanese, others not --
started making the style.

Its simple lines and
natural motifs charmed
city dwellers who missed
the open countryside, and
felt familiar to rural folks.

Mingei seeped into
the background of
folk art in America.

Eventually, the museums
started to take notice of it
and include it in displays
of the ceramic arts.

Tracing it back to
its origins proved
difficult since, after all,
none of the itinerant potters
had ever signed their work.

However, one determined curator
managed to track down a piece
belonging to the descendants
of an immigration clerk who'd
been paid with a piece of it
to let the potters into America.

It was a large jar with a tall narrow lip,
which featured a relief of carp
climbing up a waterfall.

The curator named it
the Xanadu Flask and took it
to the Smithsonian Museum,
where it resides to this day.

* * *


The Arts and Crafts movement began in Britain, then spread through Europe and North America over roughly 1880-1920. It emerged in Japan in the 1920s under the name Mingei.

This is the Xanadu Flask.

China blue is a bright shade of cobalt glaze widely used on white pottery from China.
Tags: crafts, cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fishbowl, history, networking, poetry, reading, writing
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