This beautiful depiction of an encampment at sunset conjures up the idealism of the American landscape that artists like Frederic Edwin Church, Albert Bierstadt, and Thomas Moran helped to create in paintings [Fig.1].

Fig. 1. Oil sketch: Mount Katahdin from Lake Katahdin, Maine, ca. 1853. Brush and oil paint on thin paperboard. Gift of Louis P. Church, 1917-4-323-c.

The romance of the unsullied outdoors visible on this vase was part of a romantic vision of the American frontier that still bore the imprint of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s appreciation of the American Indian of a century earlier as the “noble savage.” At the time this vase was produced—around the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—captains of industry and those truly appreciative of the need for preservation were creating large “camps” in the Adirondacks, but building log structures with many gilded age creature comforts, and buying up large tracts of land to preserve them from the ever encroaching industrialized world. These large tracts are responsible for the preservation to this day of views that might look like the one depicted on the vase, but “Indian” Reservations were not often left to the tribes to stay in their natural state. Thus the irony is that the type of Indian Encampment seen in the vase was already becoming less likely than an encampment of people who wanted to re-create an “Indian” way of life as a vacation style.

Rookwood specialized in artistic decoration sympathetic to the organic forms they originated, hiring decorators with a variety of talents. Hurley, who was active with the firm from 1896 until his retirement in 1948, was not only a master of ceramic decoration. That he was also a printmaker, painter and photographer is part of the reason his landscape on ceramic has such resonance. He often made photographic studies in the countryside to capture natural light, a feature of this vase. The twilight may make a subtle reference to the ending of an era.

Today is Native American Day

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