BY KATHRYN GARVIN
Clay was one of the earliest materials man used to express himself, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that being a potter made a statement.
This was the period when ceramics escaped from the strict classification of “the decorative arts.” Today, Midcentury pottery is collected for its sculptural presence, design and depth of color in glazes no longer seen in contemporary work.
One innovative and very collectible ceramist from that era is Axel Salto. Salto is regarded as one of Denmark’s most important designers. His designs were produced by Royal Copenhagen from the 1930’s until after his death.
Described by some collectors as an acquired taste, David Revere McFadden, chief curator of the Museum of Arts & Design in New York City, describes Salto’s pieces as “wonderfully rich, gutsy shapes that look like they came off the side of a volcano.”
Salto motifs interpret the plant world. “Budding,” “sprouting” and “living stone” were three main styles he worked in. The paradox of spiky eruptions and satiny finishes are not unlike effects seen in the natural world. His forms appear to be in constant motion, changing moment to moment as if they were inhabited. Prices at auction reflect the scarcity of the number of each style he made.
The pieces are meant to be held in your hand. “Strangely, no one is really comfortable with such perilous and eruptive shapes,” Salto wrote. He called them “the devil’s own vase.”
Leaves were an inspiration, along with chestnut husks and acorns caps.
“The vase is like a living organism,” he wrote in a 1949 book, “The Sprouting Style.” “The body buds, the buds develop, and a sprouting — even prickly — vessel results.” Growth is arrested just before it bursts into blossom and leaf.
These beautiful pieces of pottery elevate an interior. They offer great contrast in a sleek, modern interior. On a glass table, they are a standout and pop, surprisingly, when placed against a rustic fireplace.
Salto’s creative process puts him at one with nature — reverent and ruminant. “I have moved with wonder about the natural world, among its concentrates, stones and fruits, handling the bursting cups of buds and pods — the precursors of my knobbed vessels — as one might handle unexploded shells.”