Quimper ware for collectors' cottages

February 20, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff Writer

It's instantly recognizable, this form of glazed pottery from Brittany, in the northwest part of France. The cream background with its mustard, tangerine, moss-green and blue decoration clearly says it was made in one of the two factories in Quimper that have been turning it out for several hundred years.

And it's instantly appealing, somehow: It's partly the softly glowing colors, partly the cheerful peasant figures that adorn so many pieces, partly the variety of decoration -- from simple and primitive to intensively decorated, from single figures to crowds to florals to geometrics -- partly the huge variety of shapes -- fluted plates and chargers, pitchers, cup and bowls, snuff boxes, bagpipe-shaped servers, ladies' powder boxes, place-card holders, condiment carriers, swans and sabots (wooden shoes), knife rests, butter dishes, bells, figural candle holders.

"There's something about the coziness and charm of it that draws people in," says Lynn Brull, a Baltimore collector who also deals in decorative antique accessories for private clients. "I collect a lot of different things, but I can just sit and look at this. It's very pleasant to live with."

Ms. Brull will be displaying samples of Quimper (pronounced kam-PEAR) at this year's Hunt Valley Antiques Show Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn, Interstate 83 and Shawan Road. There will be several dozen dealers from around the country with items for sale, including mostly formal American and English antique furniture, clocks, and Oriental rugs. Ms. Brull's Quimper display will include some molds and pieces representative of different styles.

Quimper is still there, and the faience, or earthenware, factories are still turning out Quimper, often using the old molds, Ms. Brull says. Newer Quimper has a more porcelain-like glaze that makes it easily distinguishable from older ware. Because the older pottery is somewhat porous, few examples remain from the earliest days of production. Most of the pieces that can be found today date from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Ms. Brull says.

"It was peasant pottery," Ms. Brull says, "and most of the pieces were for everyday usage. They had a lot of things to do with meal-eating -- pitchers and egg cups, cups and saucers, plates. But then they also did some very unusual pieces. They did barbers' bowls, they did bells, they did a lot of vases, covered dishes, they did a lot of wall pockets that were put on walls to hold flowers, they did figurals, tea tiles, napkin rings -- almost anything you can think of."

Ms. Brull has been collecting Quimper for 16 years. "I found some pieces in an antique shop at the beach, and nobody really knew anything about them. They just had a very charming, country look. There was only one article at the time written about the Quimper, and a lot of the information was misinformation. It took me a while to start meeting some people who really knew about Quimper and who were very nice about sharing their information. I just started talking to dealers, and later on there were some books published about Quimper that were a big help."

She uses a few pieces, but mostly, she says, "it's gotten very hard to find, and too expensive" to be subjected to everyday use.

Ms. Brull finds her Quimper in France; she makes a couple of trips a year, bringing back pieces carefully chosen for her collector clients. "I travel all over," she says. "I often have better luck outside Brittany than in Brittany. You really don't know where you'll find it. I go to as many places as I can." Especially since the French tricentennial celebration was held in Quimper in 1990, she says, Quimper ware has had greater value for the French. "Quimper is really in demand. A lot of the dealers that used to buy it can no longer find it."

So she tries not to limit her hunt. "I use that philosophy when I'm here and when I'm in Europe. I found a wonderful platter and six plates at a tiny antiques show in Towson."

Prices for Quimper can start as low as $25 to $50 for a small object. The earliest Quimper was not marked; later pieces were labeled with initials of one of the factories where it was produced, or even later, with other identifying names. There are other forms of French faience; some of them similar to Quimper. It takes courage to buy the unmarked pieces, Ms. Brull says, but you can train your eye to pick up the characteristics that make each piece special.

Ms. Brull works with designers and by appointment with private clients, helping them bring rooms alive with collections and decorative objects. Quimper, she says, is an especially versatile collectible.

"It seems to work in a lot of different kinds of homes with a lot of varieties of styles. I have some collectors who have a much more formal home, but they find a niche in their home for the Quimper, and it certainly works very well in a country kind of decor. It's just very pleasing to look at and very easy to live with."

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