Putting art on the table

October 27, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

Art isn't just what you hang on a wall. It can be a vase, a plate, even a cup and saucer -- especially a cup and saucer desigend by a fine artist.

Imagine a coffee cup that looks like a swirl of ribbon candy, crafted in striped black and white porcelain. Or one with handles that look like an angel's wing. Or cups that resemble flowers.

These whimsical pieces are part of the Artist Collection, featuring 21 cups and saucers designed for Rosenthal, a 115-year-old German porcelain company, by artists such as Dorothy Hafner of New York and Lino Sabattini.

Turpin Rosenthal, 28-year-old grandson of the company's founder, said it was the idea of his father, Philip Rosenthal, to create works of art for the table beginning in the early 1950s.

"It is functional art," said Mr. Rosenthal, chief executive officer of Rosenthal USA, the American division of the tableware manufacturer.

"Imagine the fun of offering your guests a choice of cup and saucer for their coffee. When not in use the pieces can be displayed as works of art."

"We feel like publishers of art," said Mr. Rosenthal, explaining that the firm invites artists around the world to submit designs for tableware. The designs are juried by museum directors who may make suggestions and must approve any design before it is produced.

"Then our job is to figure out the technology to make the design," Mr. Rosenthal said, adding that the company has had to design new machinery to produce some of the designs.

One wine glass has two stems to provide a sturdy grip for someone standing at a cocktail party and to keep the user's hand off the bowl, which warms the wine.

For Rosenthal's "Mattre" collection, the firm asked wine connoiseurs to work with artists to create "the perfect burgundy, the perfect sherry, the perfect champagne flute."

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