Blue Mountain Pottery


 

bluemountainpotteryangelfishI believe in synchronicity. Wandering around antiques centres and fairs, as is my want, my eye had been caught on a number of occasions by some rather good ceramic animals and vases decorated with an interesting vivid green, flowing glaze. Forms were lively, or strongly stylised, and the variety of dripping green tones in the glazes had caught my attention due to my interest in West German ‘Fat Lava’ ceramics of the 1960s-70s. However, I didn’t recognise the marks or the initials ‘BMP’, although they did reveal that the pieces were made in Canada. Not being ‘my thing’, I promptly filed them in my mind for later research. The £20 being asked for a large stylised fish stayed firmly in my wallet.

Pictured right: A Blue Mountain Pottery ‘Angel Fish’ vase, shape No.58 designed by Dennis Tupy, with a graduated green dripped glaze, the base moulded ‘BMP CANADA’.
17.5in (44cm) high Price Guide: £60-120

Two months later I found myself in Toronto, Canada, and visiting my good friends Conrad Biernacki of the Royal Ontario Museum, and Holly Gnaedinger of ‘Twice Found’ in the wonderful Mirvish Village. Remembering the fish, I asked them, and their eyes widened and mouths fell. Hadn’t I heard about the hottest new trend in Canadian collecting? No I hadn’t! I needed to know more – synchronicity had struck. By the end of my stay, I was wishing I had bought that fish.

The ‘BMP’ marks I had asked about stand for the Blue Mountain Pottery, which was founded by Czech immigrant Josef Weider (1909-71) in Collingwood, Ontario just after WWII. It took its name from the neighbouring Blue Mountains, which are a haven for tourists and skiers. Founded to provide a steady income and work throughout the year for those that lived there, the pottery also turned out a product that could be sold to the seasonal visitors as useful souvenirs. The pottery took on fellow Czechs Dennis (Zdenek) Tupy as mould maker and Mirek Hambalek as glazer, and produced vases, ashtrays and bowls. A range of animals was also produced, and it was these that I had spotted in the UK. The vast majority of pieces were made using a local red clay and a slip-moulding process, where liquid clay was poured into a mould before firing. This allowed for identical forms to be produced swiftly and economically.

The most characteristic, popular and prolifically used glaze was the streaky and flowing green glaze I had seen, and is said to have been inspired by the mountains’ spruce and pine trees. Blue and brown were also popular. Due to the two-step, brushed and dipped production process that was achieved by hand, the glaze effect on each piece is unique. The glaze formulas themselves were complex and specially developed by the company. Although other companies attempted to copy their success, many being founded by ex-employees (including Tupy himself), none matched the success of Blue Mountain.

By 1955, the company had established itself firmly and sales and production levels had expanded considerably. This expansion continued into the 1960s, and Weider sold the successful company in 1968. After a further sale and various financial problems, it was then bought by Robert Blair in 1968. As well as being successful within Canada, over 60% of the company’s production was exported abroad, 40% of that to the US, with much of the remaining 20% going to the UK and Europe – hence why we see it here. Whilst the 1980s and early 90s continued to be strong periods for the company, it was forced to close in 2004 due to falling orders, the factory lease ending and competition from Far Eastern makers.

Blue Mountain Pottery – The Gen

There are three main considerations towards value; the glaze, the shape and the size. Glaze is one of the more important considerations. In general, the stronger and more tonally varied the colour, the better. Green is the most common and the most characteristic, followed by blue. Other glazes can be rare. Amongst the most desirable today are ‘Harvest Gold’ and ‘Cobalt Blue’, but rarer glazes include the grey ‘Slate’ and ‘Mocha’, with their mottled matte and dark, almost mirrored, effects. However, a superbly varied flowing green glaze on a good form may fetch as much as a poor example of the much rarer ‘Slate’ glaze.

A couple of ranges are also worth keeping your eyes peeled for. Look out for the desirable ‘Apollo’ range, with its pitted and dripped orange, cream and brown glaze. Inspired by the surface of the moon and released shortly after the moon landing, the range also competed with West German ceramics flooding into Canada. A good example can fetch as much as £80 to dedicated collectors. More Canadian in theme is the ‘Native Artist’s Collection’ that was inspired by Inuit, or native Canadian tribal, sculptures and art. Marked out in black on a mottled beige ground, there are nine designs on 11 shapes to collect and prices can easily go over the £100 mark for a visually impressive piece. Although you’re unlikely to see one here, unless it had been brought back as a souvenir, keep an eye out for ‘studio’ pieces made in the pottery’s travelling demonstration area. The ‘holy grail’ for many collectors, many were made by the talented potter and decorator Dominic Stanzione and can fetch up to £200 or more.

The form is also important. I was taken by the curving stylish vases and jugs that represent the mid-century modern style so well. Many of these were designed by Dennis Tupy, one of the most important names connected to the pottery – and indeed Canadian pottery of the period. Prices range from £20-50 or so, depending on the quality of the glaze, the shape and the size. Stylised, and stylish, animal sculptures are also popular, with a focus on elegant elongation. Values range from as little as £15 and can rise to over £100. Perhaps the most characteristic and desirable of these is the ‘Angel Fish’ – which turned out to be the £20 fish I had spotted months before. Again designed by Tupy, these fragile fish are without precedent and are the company’s hallmark piece. Imagine my horror when I was told that the going rate could be as high as £120!

In general, the market is very new, so prices do vary widely and are still finding their feet – personal taste plays a large role. The prices I’ve given here represent those being paid in the Canadian market, and I know that values over here are often much lower – mainly as few know what you and I now know. However, given their appeal, the meteoric rise in Canada seen over the past few years, and the fact that a book is allegedly about to be written, I can see this market growing and growing.

I said I believed in synchronicity, and you may also have guessed that I was rather annoyed about not buying the (now bargainous) Angel Fish. Well, I was determined not to let this one completely pass me by, so the handsome and comparatively scarce ‘Mocha’ jug vase shown in this page is now gracing the shelves of Hill Towers. However, it cost me more than the fish I had originally seen. Did I do the right thing? I don’t have a crystal ball, so only time will tell!

Find out more… Blue Mountain Pottery Collectors’ Club – www.bmpcc.com

by Mark Hill www.markhill.net Twitter @antiquemark from an article in ARC Magazine

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