FERRIN RESOURCES & COLLECTIONS | On Display in Exhibitions

Works from Ferrin Contemporary’s Resources and Collections are lent to museum exhibitions that feature works by contemporary artists represented by the gallery. The collection began decades ago with souvenir plates and developed further when sourcing material for Paul Scott to use in his New American Scenery series. The series is now on tour at museums that invite Paul to collaborate as an artist curator to select works from their permanent collections to be shown in context with his prints on ceramics, photogravures and re-animated historic transferware. An Enoch Woods, Cape Coast Castle platter depicting the slave trade in Africa was first found by Paul when researching the transferware collection at RISD Museum. A copy of that platter is available for loan and is included in his comprehensive show at the Albany Institute of History and Art. At Ferrin Contemporary, the exhibition Our America/Whose America?  invited artists to respond to this collection with newly created and recent works that directly questioned the presumptions conveyed by the historic material.  At Norman Rockwell Museum feature in Imprinted: Illustrating Race is a case of ceramic, glass and other manufactured objects in conversation with contemporary works by Elizabeth Alexander, Garth Johnson and Paul Scott.  The collection includes souvenir objects and plates, designed and produced in England in the 19th and early 20th century, Made in Occupied Japan, and later produced in America. The series produced by Vernon Kilns designed by Rockwell Kent and Gale Turnbull “Our America” is featured in the two exhibitions on view in 2022.

Looking around at the contemporary exhibition landscape, we are in a moment of reflection. In museums and galleries throughout the Americas, artists are using found objects and repurposing materials in their work. Likewise, museum curators are looking at their permanent collections to both critique the featured content and question the paths of patronage and origin stories. Diversifying permanent collections to address past gaps and omissions through new acquisitions of works by women and artists of color.  Commissioning contemporary artists to produce site responsive works or supporting their practice by placing them in the role of artist-curator is providing opportunities for scholarship and engagement with new audiences. Together as we all reflect on the past by examining what was hidden in plain sight, we move forward, informed of the forces that still impact our lives today.

Leslie Ferrin, Director of Ferrin Contemporary, Collector

View the full Resources & Collections page HERE


More than 40 years ago, an artist friend pointed out the differences between a polychrome (lots of colors) transfer printed souvenir plate and others that were monochrome (one color). The artist, Miriam Kaye, was known for reuse of images from history in her own work, along with reclaimed material collage. I don’t recall the image on the plate but I do remember her introduction to the subtle variations of surface, under and over glaze, printed imagery, and the quality of the plates themselves. Depending on the time period when they were produced, each decade built upon a prior narrative to commemorate idealized versions of historic events, portraits of “founders,” man-made monuments and the buildings built, some named for and intended to honor this history. These plates were created as souvenirs with clues to their origins on the backs of plates through merchant stamps, or maker’s marks, and sometimes additional narratives with lengthy written text. This information, further emphasized by titles and relationships with the visual imagery, was quite literally whitewashed of any human struggle that came before, during, or after. Some commemorated foot soldiers who fought for independence, others were generals and represent what we now view as white supremacy by glorifying slave owners and the confederacy. 

These images were created and put on plates using illustrations, sometimes copies of well known paintings and entered popular culture as countless multiples. They used powerful stereotypes and caricatures, added to historical fictions and resonate today as we consider how we came to believe what we do. 

The first versions produced in the early 1800s by British potteries were designed in written correspondence that used illustrations and prints provided by the merchants. They would correspond by post with the engravers prior to ordering inventory for shops and stores in the US. These were sometimes based on well known history paintings and with each transmission, the narrative and image was popularized and imprinted on new generations. By the early 1900’s the compositions became formulaic using medallions on the plate’s border format to layer on more information, providing additional opportunities to romanticize what was quickly receding into the past. 

From the mid-70’s on, I collected, was given and sent more than 100 plates, figurines, and small objects in glass and ceramics. This started casually. Like others of my generation who hunted and gathered vintage materials, we sought cultural objects that reminded us of a past that many of us never actually experienced but for which were nostalgic without fully understanding the depth of that past. We saw the irony and displayed these objects in our homes, naive and unaware of their toxic power to continue the original message conveyed and widely distributed through commercial reproduction. 

At first, most of the souvenir plates I purchased were produced by English potteries like Johnson Brothers and Rowland & Marsellus who operated in the early 1900s, commissioned by merchants to offer for sale to tourists at the sites depicted. The plates I purchased showed monuments and architecture flanked by their namesakes, generals and politicians; scenes copied from famous paintings such as the landing of Europeans – Roger Williams, Henry Hudson; portraits such as Pocahontas/Matoaka depicted as an Englishwoman copied from an engraving by Simon van de Passe; geographically significant landscapes tamed by Europeans such as Plymouth Rock with 1620 carved into it and Mount Rushmore with the faces of the founders, Niagra Falls now accessible by boat and generating electricity. These images are about American identity which led me to seek out others, plates and figurines made in America and Occupied Japan drawn as I was to how they represented and portrayed race, positions in society, and through popular culture continue to infuse tropes, maintain stereotypes and deliver messages “hidden in plain site.”  

What started as a hobby that gave me an excuse to poke around thrift stores, antique malls and buy things when I traveled, became a collection – these plates were a way to connect with a past I never personally knew but was represented by the center images, surrounding cartouches or medallions and back stamps. In 2020, when the pandemic froze us all in place, my collecting took a turn. Working from home, with my lived through 40 years in ceramics, and my new perspectives delivered though the BLM movement, I began to turn this old hobby into a site of investigation and criticality. The result is OUR AMERICA/WHOSE AMERICA? Though as we have worked our way through the historic materials and the layered responses from artists, we realize this might be a starting point and not an end point type of exhibition. 

Looking around at the contemporary exhibition landscape, it’s clear we are having a moment of reflection. One only need look at our collaborators like Jack Shainman Gallery, The Norman Rockwell Museum and The Albany Institute History and Art, or out across the country to other sites like MCA Chicago, The Cleveland Institute of Art, and dozens more who are also hosting exhibitions that look at and celebrate the new Black vanguard and honor other living, contemporary artists who have historically been marginalized. 


August 6 – October 30, 2022 | At Ferrin Contemporary, North Adams, MA

View the Exhibition  •  HERE  •

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June 11 – October 30, 2022 | At Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, MA

View the Exhibition  •  HERE  •
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