From Wikipedia, the free encyclopediaChalkware was figurines made of sculpted gypsum painted with watercolors; most typically those made in one of two periods, the first beginning in the late 18th century and ending by the beginning of the 20th century, the second being during the Great Depression. Those made during the first period were more typically serious art; those during the second period were more typically somewhat jocular.
Today, Chalkware is more commonly created with a plaster substance to create long lasting collectibles. Vaillancourt Folk Art is known for producing the first contemporary chalkware figurines since the original gypsum versions. Contemporary chalkware was made popular by designer Judi Vaillancourt and is one of the last remaining crafters still designing by hand.
From Country Home Blog
ChalkwareCalled poor-man’s porcelain, chalkware was the immigrant’s savvy answer to a growing demand in 19th-century America for ornamental figurines. Using fast-drying plaster of Paris (which sets white and powdery like chalk), small teams of craftsmen created products that sold for pennies. Plaster did not have to be fired in a kiln like pricier ceramics, and decoration could be quickly hand painted rather than glazed.
One family, a rented room, water, plaster, and a few jars of paint were all that was needed to create a menagerie of small, colorful chalkware animals, birds, portrait busts, and fruit compotes to sell door-to-door. Image peddlers, as they were called, strolled city streets hawking wares they carried on boards above their heads. Some took along unpainted pieces as well, which they would decorate to a housewife’s liking right on her doorstep.
Though chalkware was a commercial product, today it is appreciated as folk art. The difficulties of modeling plaster gave each figure a coarse, almost clumsy charm. Forms are often imprecise and dependent upon painting for descriptive details. Because each piece was hand painted, two casts from the same mold can vary according to the skill or taste of the decorator.
While the 20th-century eye looks for signs of the human spirit in the individuality of each piece, the original chalkware owner was more likely to focus on resemblances. Chalkware was an imitative art form, executed in the style of then-fashionable Staffordshire figurines. From sheep and peasant couples to the ever-popular spaniel, many chalkware forms were modeled on imported ceramics. However, although comparisons between Staffordshire and chalkware figures can be made, no one has ever identified a chalkware piece that was cast directly from a Staffordshire figure. Chalkware craftsmen, it would seem, did not buy the expensive imported figures to make their molds.
Instead, they made their own models with the goal of capturing the general look of the more expensive wares. They were also selective in choosing which Staffordshire forms to imitate, opting for dogs, cats, and squirrels over cows and for patriotic and pastoral themes over figures from literature, mythology, theater, or sports.
Italian immigrants in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York carried on the bulk of chalkware production in America from 1840 to 1890. They worked in barely furnished rooms and abandoned houses, rarely staying in one place long enough to set up a home or a shop. Some itinerant peddlers sold their wares on city streets; others traveled deep into the countryside.
Although chalkware has been found as far north as Maine and as far west as the Mississippi, it was eastern Pennsylvania’s German population who proved such an enthusiastic audience that, until recently, collectors mistakenly regarded chalkware as a homespun craft of that region. Experts attributed the vibrant, often garish paints on chalkware to the local taste for color and proposed theories as to how a tradition of plaster figurines so strong in Italy could have developed and flourished in the German community. This misunderstanding of the origin of chalkware led collectors to believe that it was an exclusively country art form favored by those who could not afford pricier ornaments. The truth is that plaster ornaments were just as likely to have decorated urban homes as rural homes, and, while they were certainly very popular with working-class loan modification people, they also appealed to Victorians of more than humble means. Victorian interiors were dark, with heavily draped windows. Indoor lighting was expensive and inefficient, but rows of inexpensive, colorful chalkware could brighten a room.
The majority of chalkware pieces depicted animals—sleeping and sitting cats, poodles, spaniels, squirrels, roosters, parrots, deer, and sheep. Religious figures included angels, nativity scenes, Madonnas, kneeling children, and Saint Nicks. During the first half of the 19th century, portrait busts and relief portraits of royalty and political figures such as Napoleon and Josephine were made, but they soon fell out of fashion. After 1860, the range of chalkware that depicted people focused almost exclusively on working-class heroes such as firemen, idyllic peasant couples, custom shot glasses,George Washington, singer Jenny Lind, and social reformer Amelia Jenks Bloomer.