Pop-Up Exhibition Melts Notions: "Butter" dishes up 80+ options to serve the food
Some things are designed for specific uses only, while other items could serve a variety of functions. Examples might be socks versus a blanket, or a planner versus blank paper. In the realm of food, a butter dish serves a singular purpose among other tableware. This quality makes butter dishes less common, said Margaret Carney, director of the International Museum of Dinnerware Design in Ann Arbor.
The question then becomes, “What would you want to have your butter in?” according to Carney.
The exhibit Butter provides more than 80 answers to this question in the form of invited, juried, and museum pieces all designed to hold butter or related to butter in some way. The show is a pop-up exhibition curated by the International Museum of Dinnerware Design and on view at the Museum on Main Street, which is owned by the Washtenaw County Historical Society, through a partnership between the museums. Butter is available to visit from April 6 to August 25, 2019, on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. and weekdays by appointment. Admission is free.
Carney will give a presentation related to the exhibit, called “Butter Extravaganza,” Sunday, May 12, from 3-5 pm at the Traverwood Branch of the Ann Arbor District Library.
Despite butter’s ubiquity as a condiment, ingredient, flavoring, and cooking medium, the way in which it is dished up might not always have much ceremony around it. Plastic tubs of butter from the grocery store can be easily shuttled between the refrigerator and table without needing a dish. Restaurants often supply little wax-wrapped or tiny plastic containers alongside bread. Yet, butter dishes, often lidded, can be part of a set of dishes or standalone pieces.
The creative dishes by artists, designers, and manufacturers in Butter might then soften the notion of what a butter dish can be. They are made of ceramic, paper, glass, metal, and found objects. Dishes range in shape and style, from a dish that looks like a stack of pancakes to ones decorated with flowers. An invited entry, called “The Butter Host” by Undine Brod, consists of a bust of a bear with a space hollowed out to fit a stick of butter. A juried entry, named “Simplicity” by Urban Jupena, looks like a sling or taco for a stick of butter and contains a slot and hole in which to slide a knife or spreader. Items from the International Museum of Dinnerware Design collection include cat face butter pat china, designed to hold a square slice of butter to accompany a meal.
These and many other dishes are spread throughout three rooms of the Museum on Main Street. Informative signs help solidify viewers’ knowledge of butter, including ones on animals that produce butter, what a butter bell is, and facts about butter carving at state fairs. This exhibit is the latest in a series of pop-up exhibits by the International Museum of Dinnerware Design, which was founded in 2012. The juried show before Butter was Cake, for which artists made cake stands or sculpture.
The inspiration for the Butter show came from seeking a unique theme that would churn up unique pieces from the challenge.
“It’s about coming up with an idea that would be a good assignment for the artists,” said Carney. “A lot of them thank me for giving them something outside of their experience.”
Carney’s background is in museums. She holds a Ph.D. in Asian art history, has taught ceramic world history, and has directed museums, including serving as the founding director of the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum (formerly the Schein-Joseph International Museum of Ceramic Art at the New York State College of Ceramics) at Alfred University.
When asked what visitors should pay attention to when viewing the exhibit, Carney said it can be about what melds with your interests.
“People who come make their own judgments, so it’s more about what you like,” she said. “Look at all the solutions that artists came up with to put butter on the table. Regular butter dishes might have some detail, but that’s not design. Design is the form and shape.”
For the juried and invited pieces, entry requirements included rendering dishes within the dimensions of 18 inches by 18 inches. They also had to be nonperishable. Beyond this, artists had the freedom to create what they imagined.
Butter consequently serves up a variety of entries. Not all the pieces hold butter. One juried entry is a pop-up paper scene by Robin Wilt called “The Butter Theater presents CHURNED LOVE.” Another is “Meet the Cabot Yo-Yo,” fashioned after Chinese yo-yos and made from wax butter wrappers, by Sarah Dockter.
Juror Anne Meszko of SOFA CHICAGO, the annual Sculpture Objects & Functional Art Fair, selected winners among the juried entries.
The first place was won by Julianne Harvey for the piece “Sweet Dreams,” a butter dish fashioned after the Land O’Lakes butter box with the brand name replaced by the words, “Land O’Liars.” The box, with a cow standing on top of it, rests atop the backs of bison.
“I bet you’ll never see another butter dish making a political statement,” said Carney, “and I love that.”
Second place in the juried competition was earned by Craig Hinshaw’s “Butter Cow,” which consists of a white figurine of a cow with a rectangular-shaped body and a spot for a stick of butter lying behind the creature. Third place went to S.C. Rolf for a round, stoneware dish. Fourth place was a piece called “Stay out of the butter cave!” with bat atop a dish that looks like a cave wall by Mieke Zuiderweg.
Dishes on display from the International Museum of Dinnerware Design include one that has space for ice to keep butter cool, a butter warmer heated by a candle, and a stoneware butter crock. Museum pieces also include ones by designers and companies such as Ben Seibel, Eva Zeisel, Metlox Pottery of California, Michael Lax, Russel Wright, and Red Wing Pottery of Minnesota.
The 19 invited artists are Undine Brod, Bill Brouillard, Nancy Bulkley, Mary Louise Carter, Michael Connelly, Paul Donnelly, Paul Eshelman, Léopold Foulem, Frank Martin, Polly Ann Martin, Kate Maury, Colleen McCall, David McDonald, Dganit Moreno, Judith Salomon, Deborah Schwartzkopf, Linda Sikora, Debbie Thompson, and Kate Tremel.
The 36 artists in the juried competition are Alice Abrams, Posey Bacopoulos, Tara Barnes-Stumpf, Michael Bishop, Irina Bondarenko, Darcy Bowden, Barbara Harding Brown, Stefanie Burdick, Elizabeth Coleman, Matthew Dercole, Becca Dilldine, Sarah Dockter, Adrienne Eliades, Julianne Harvey, Mandy Henebry, Craig Hinshaw, Urban Jupena, Cara Jean McCarthy, Charlotte Lindley Martin, Jodie Masterman, Sue O’Connor, KyoungHwa Oh, Helen Otterson, Jerri Puerner, S.C. Rolf, Peter Saenger, Kathryn Schroeder, Jo-Ann Siedlecki-Vento, Maribeth Sonsara, Claire Gabrielsen Teagan, Clovy Tsuchiya, Margo West, Christopher Whittington, Robin Wilt, Logan Woodle, and Mieke Zuiderweg.
Martha Stuit is a former reporter and current librarian.
"Butter" is at the Museum on Main Street, 500 N. Main St., Ann Arbor, through August 25. Open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. and weekdays by appointment. Admission is free. Margaret Carney, director of the International Museum of Dinnerware Design, will give a presentation related to the exhibit, called “Butter Extravaganza,” Sunday, May 12, from 3-5 pm at the Traverwood Branch of the Ann Arbor District Library. Visit dinnerwaremuseum.org for more info on the exhibit.