Brother Thomas

Brother Thomas Bezanson, an American citizen, was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1929. He was a Benedictine monk at Weston Priory, Weston, Vermont, for twenty-five years and has worked as an artist-in-residence with the Benedictine sisters of Erie since 1985. Thomas' porcelains can be found in over fifty national and international public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.; the Osaka Municipal Museum; and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. His work is also in numerous private collections in the United States and abroad. Brother Thomas is represented by the Pucker Gallery, Boston.

Selected Objects

China, Jiangxi Province
Quing period, Yongzheng era, 1723-1735
Porcelain painted with overglaze enamels (Jindezhen ware)
H. 13 1/2 in. (34.3 cm), D. 8 3/4 in. (22.2 cm); 1979.189

This mei p'ing vase is a glorious work of art but not primarily the art of the potter. The glory of this piece comes from the heart and hand of a painter.

Whoever he or she was, whether an anonymous artist in a production line at Jingdezhen, or a recognized court painter, this is a priceless piece of overglaze enamel painting.

But the work of the potter, is in the background like a canvas for a painter. Without the painting this pure white pot would look equally as blank as a canvas.

Is it then just like a canvas, only a means to the art of the painter? Or is it really a work of ceramic art? It is a question.

Then there is something magically integrated about the piece which raises another question. Was there a third person involved, a designer-mind bringing together the potter's skill and the painter's hand?

It remains a question; meantime we have the reality of a moving work of art. And there is no question about that.

China, Henan Province
Northern Song period, 12th century
Stoneware with glaze with suffusions from copper filings (Jun ware)
H. 1 3/4 in. (4.4 cm), D. 3 3/8 in. (8.6 cm); 1979.137

I don't think there is another glaze in the early years of a potter's career that could make him/her more aware of the greatness of the ceramic art than an exquisite sample of Jun (Chün) ware like this one in the Asia Society collection.

And any potter who tries to duplicate this glaze soon realizes how difficult it is to do.

The color is derived from copper, ceramics most protean mineral but also its most fugitive. Since these glazes were regional phenomena they are hard to reproduce elsewhere. Even with our technical ability today to analyze the constituents of these ancient glazes, they remain elusive.

One thing is obvious, there must have been a copper deposit in the region of the Jun ware kilns, as well as other minerals sympathetic to producing copper colors in their glazes. The intriguing purple and red passages found on Jun ware are splashes of copper in some form, perhaps a finely ground copper oxide or carbonate, or a soluble salt of copper. Because copper migrates in a glaze it can wick through the wall of the body while it is in an absorbent state. This accounts for the color found inside this bowl as well as the outside-the copper has migrated through its wall.

How they did these amazing glazes is a technically fascinating subject. But why they did it is the mystery of artistic intuition aided by some fortuitous things like location and some mystical things like genius.

China, Zhejiang Province
Southern Song period, late 12th-early 13th century
Stoneware with glaze (Ge ware)
H. 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm), D. 4 5/8 in. (11.7 cm) at mouth; 1979.146

We may take the colored crackle glaze on this Song vessel for granted because we have seen it so often in Asian ceramics. But in this piece and pieces like it from this period, we are seeing the origins and the originality of it.

Technically the cracking or crazing of a glaze is considered a defect in ceramics. The co-efficients, the measure of expansion and contraction of the glaze and body, should be the same, but in the case of this censer they are not; the glaze in the cooling process has contracted more than the stoneware body of the piece. The glaze is said not "to fit" the body. The result is that the glaze cracks or crazes under the compression. A technical mind would correct this defect.

But turning "defects""into aesthetic effects seems to have been a special gift of the song potters. This piece is a wonderful example of this gift, an intuitive original, the work of an artistic mind, not a technical mind. Whatever prompted that artist potter to color the crackle with ink or some carbonaceous material does not come from any technical knowledge, it has nothing to do with his skills. It is spontaneous artistic intuition. Why did he/she think of it at all is the mystery of originality and art. Even to use the word "think" is inaccurate. It came to that artist from some contact with a field of reality of which we only have the vaguest awareness at this stage of our humanization.

The artist's real medium is not paint or stone or clay, but the mystic substance of the universe. This artist was in touch with it.