Leon Volkmar (1879–1959) was an American studio ceramicist whose pieces were deeply influenced by the forms and glaze colors of ceramics from the ancient world, many of which were being rediscovered and popularized by archaeologists in the early 20th century. With the financial backing of his former pupil Jean Rice, Volkmar established his own pottery enterprise called Durant Kilns in Bedford Village, New York in 1910.
Volkmar experimented with glaze chemistry and firing temperatures to rediscover and recreate several of the brilliant colors seen in ancient Chinese, Persian and Egyptian ceramics. For example, the deep cerulean blue glaze on the large vase pictured below was meant to imitate the incredibly bright and beautiful blue typical of the finest ancient Egyptian faience – a type of ceramic body formed of ground quartz.
A famous example of ancient Egyptian blue faience is this small hippopotamus figure that was discovered in the early 20th century in a shaft grave at Meir, an Upper Egyptian site about 30 miles south of the modern city of Asyut. It was part of the burial assembly of a steward named Senbi II, and is almost 4,000 years old (dating to between 1961-1878 BCE). This hippo, playfully nicknamed “William,” is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Leon Volkmar was friendly with Elmer and Constant MacRae, who operated the Holley House boarding house which served as the center of the Cos Cob Art Colony. Volkmar and his family visited Greenwich often to socialize and enjoy the creative atmosphere of the artist colony, and eventually he and his family settled nearby.
The MacRaes owned a number of Volkmar’s ceramic pieces. Constant Holley MacRae, a talented and accomplished floral designer, often used Volkmar vases as the centerpieces of her award-winning floral arrangements.
Today, you can see many fine examples of Volkmar’s work on display in the Bush-Holley House Museum, and the museum galleries at the Greenwich Historical Society.