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Museum Feature

Museum Feature – Syracuse China Nature Study Dinner Plate

This month we feature a lovely dinner plate from the Nature Study pattern by Syracuse China. Produced from 1929 to the 1950s, Nature Study includes forty different designs. The pattern was designed by Harry Aitken, a talented artist who was hired in 1904 to head the decorating department at Syracuse China. Other pieces in the Nature Study series feature daisies, rhododendrons, orchids, blackbirds, and other bird and flower designs.

The original Nature Study plate decoration was a “Poppy” design based on a watercolor Aitken painted of poppies in his own garden. Aitken described the process for creating “Poppy” pieces in an undated “Syracuse China News” article: “The decoration of the poppy starts with a freehand engraving on steel, from which we print. It is then ground laid [with solid colors], painted by hand and lined, all of these processes being under the glaze, after which we snap up a brilliant highlight in [overglaze] enamel color, which is the finishing touch.” The pattern was so highly regarded upon its creation that a gigantic “Poppy” plate was displayed as the centerpiece for a 1929 Syracuse China exhibit at the New York State Fair.

During his tenure at Syracuse, Aitken’s other artful tableware designs included depictions of various ships, characters from Charles Dickens stories, water lilies, underwater ocean scenes, and many others. In addition to creating alluring art designs, Aitken also developed several new production techniques. In 1924, Aitken developed the “underglaze hand-painted treatments” technique to meet the growing demand for primitive hand painted patterns. This process involved applying a stencil pricked with tiny holes to a piece, then sprinkling charcoal over the stencil. The stencil was then removed, and a decorator would hand paint the piece using the charcoal marks left behind as guides. Aitken also developed a technique called “Shadowtone” in which an airbrush was used to spray colors through multiple layers of hand-cut stencils. Aitken retired from Syracuse China in 1946, leaving behind a legacy of creative and exquisite tableware design.

The story of Syracuse China begins in 1841, when W. H. Farrar founded a pottery in Syracuse, NY. The company was sold in 1868 and changed its name to Empire Pottery. The company changed hands again in 1871, when it was purchased by the Onondaga Pottery Company. The initial products manufactured by Onondaga were earthenware pieces, and the company produced a variety of table and toilet wares. In 1888, the company became the first American company to produce translucent, vitreous fine china on par with that being produced by Europe at the time. The company continued to expand and innovate throughout the early twentieth century, and found success supplying china to the hotel and restaurant industries. In 1966, the company officially changed its name to Syracuse China. In 1995, after a series of mergers and acquisitions, Syracuse China was sold to Libbey, Inc., which shut down all North American production of Syracuse in 2009. Today, Syracuse China pieces remain highly sought by collectors.

The Syracuse Nature Study dinner plate in our museum is not for sale, but we do have Nature Study Poppies plates available for purchase in our inventory; be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you’ll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our retail store and museum are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm ET, 7 days (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm ET, 7 days. The retail store and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!

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