Obsession: Pique Assiette

By Cheryl Katz 

As defined by those of us in the design world, an obsession is the irresistible, often unprovoked, fixation on a particular object. When and how an obsession takes shape is unpredictable and can occur unexpectedly – while trawling second hand shops, binge watching a Netflix series, or visiting the house of a friend. Suddenly, a thing heretofore unnoticed, even scorned, inexplicably becomes an insatiable desire.

Neither dependent on trends or current fashion, obsessions transcend time and place.

pique assiette

Photography by Jeffrey Katz

My obsession with pique assiette (or as it is sometimes called, memory ware) began twenty-five years ago. An inveterate window shopper, I was strolling down Bleeker Street in New York when I came upon a display of vases covered in bits of broken china. Seduced by the hodge- podge of patterns on each of the vases, I went into Kelter Malce to learn more. The proprietors, specialists in 19th and 20th century decorative arts, explained that this art form, similar to mosaic, used bits and pieces of broken ceramics to shroud everything from picture frames to pedestals.

pique assiette

Later I would learn that in the American south, this folk art would be treated much like a sewing bee, with groups of woman covering objects with bits of broken dishes in honor of those recently deceased.

pique assiette

A few years after I saw the display of vases in that window, unable to get the image out of my mind, I went back to Kelter Malce and bought my first piece of pique assiette. In subsequent years I unearthed dozens more of these beautifully odd objects.

pique assiette

As I began to appreciate a “less is more aesthetic” my collecting slowed down. But my obsession hasn’t. I still take great pleasure in looking at each piece and try to imagine the story behind every shard.

Editors note: See if you can spot the pique assiette in Cheryl and Jeffrey Katz’s home featured on Remodelista

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