A Memory For Blue and White Porcelain

by Judith Walcutt
Bowl with dragon
Before we received our bowl for blessing, I didn’t know how it would look or what I might feel when I saw it.

The assorted bowls of our lives narrate time and space back to us, if we stop for a moment and think where each came from and when we’ve used it most or last. Is it Grandma Jo’s bowl for mashed potatoes on holidays or the big white one we were given at our wedding, serving us well for over 25 years at summertime potlucks? Some bowls at the back of my cabinet I’ve had since I was a single woman; they have their own dinner tales to tell.

A new bowl, with no history, is quite unique in the vocabulary of our table accoutrements. I wondered what it would be like to be part of the authorship of the story it will tell from now onwards.

Just before this unknown bowl arrived, it had been my birthday. A package from my oldest friend (we go back to Wee Folk Nursery School) arrived at my door. It contained a fragment of pottery with a dragon’s head on it, clearly from a very old Chinese vessel, possibly even a bowl, as it has a slightly curved surface. It is mounted in a silver bezel and made into a necklace so that it can be worn. The information that came with the piece is translated from the Chinese in the interesting way that sometimes happens when non-native speakers are in charge and a random, poetic strangeness crops up in the word choices. This time, the language not only explained the provenance of the fragment (the Kang Xi Reign of the Qing Dynasty, 1661-1722), but also spoke its accidental poem into my heart upon reading it. In the literature, the shard is called “A Memory for Blue and White Porcelain” and those very words together with the blue and white piece brought back one of the strongest memories I have—both of my childhood and of blue and white porcelain.

Though it was the reign of Barbie and Ken, my friend and I shared a secret passion for an older time in children’s play, when make-believe tea parties and fairyland picnics were more ubiquitous. For such occasions of our own conjuring, we had matching child-sized, blue and white Willowware tea sets. My mother gave us one each, so that we would have enough cups and saucers and plates to serve ourselves as well as our attending company of important bears and a few good dolls.

It was typical of my mother to make sure everyone had enough tiny teacups to go around. Like a fairy-godmother in a Rackham-illustrated children’s book, she also made sure we had provisions for the party: petit-four cakes with pink fondant icing, real tea in the small pot, little slices of lemon on a miniature plate, and the final touch—tiny, hand-decorated sugar cubes in a blue and white, matching sugar bowl.

Apart from the charming accoutrements, the best thing was that we were unabashed about enjoying this innocent, holy, and singular time allowed us for such transcendent, transient experiences as tea parties in a made-up world. They were some of the happiest of times in our shared memories—these particular ones of a vanished childhood’s bliss. I was very moved by the gift my friend gave me—the fragment, the metonymic symbol, the metaphor, the memory of and for blue and white porcelain, capturing the essence of those two little girls in a luminous, golden time together.

This story might seem tangential to the tale of the bowl at hand,

but no– it is further proof that all things are interdependent and interstitially connected. When Penny Bauer brought us the bowl for our formal written blessings—I was stunned to see it—the sudden, unexpected blue and white of it, sitting immediately alongside my blue and white dragon’s head, an interpretive evocation of something old and special, now new, in a friendly, grown-up iteration.

What better way to launch this new bowl into its lifelong journey than by planting its collective memory with this seed: Here is a bowl which speaks to me of beautiful childhood moments and a deep and lasting friendship. May it carry that blessing forward in its gathering of further memories with many happy times among new and old friends, beloved family, and hosts of kindred spirits.

Our many thanks to artist Sharon Warwick for the gift of her bowl in our life—and to all the contributing island artists for setting this beautiful gesture in motion.


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