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Aerodynamic shapes: Tableware of the 1950s and 1960s

Corine Meyer, curator of Ceramics and Precious Metals at the DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History, explores fashionable tableware of the 1950s and 1960s in the DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History collection.

Ceramics Precious Metals DITSONG National Museum Cultural History teapot
Matte green-glazed earthenware teapot featuring brown spray painting on the upper parts (with speckled effect) and hand-painted floral decoration on the body, 1950s. Country of origin unknown. This piece comes from a tea set. At first glance, it may be thought to date from the 1930s, but its elegant flowing lines reflect modern trends, and the elongated form clearly reflects the interest in flying saucers. PHOTOS Chris Watterson

The 1950s and 1960s were a very exciting and innovative period in the world of ceramic and glass design.
    In the new atomic age that emerged during the post-war era in the 1950s, there was a preoccupation with science, as well as new developments in transportation. These trends were incorporated into the design of everyday household and commercial items, and the ceramics and glass of this time were no exception. Colours were bold and bright and the futuristic atomic age had arrived. The influence of speed that developed during the 1930s now grew into a much larger force. Advances in the design of planes and the breaking of the sound barrier heralded the jet age. In addition, science fiction grabbed the public imagination, and books and films with a proliferation of rockets and flying saucers became an intrinsic part of the 1950s. By the end of the decade, space travel had become a reality when the Russian man-made satellite Sputnik orbited the earth for the first time. All these events had an effect on contemporary design and influenced both the shapes and patterns of tableware as seen in these objects in the museum collection.
     Throughout the 20th century, glassmakers combined traditional techniques and inspiring ideas to create innovative designs. New technologies that developed during the war allowed glass companies to create thinner glass and beautiful shapes that added an air of elegance to the dining events. The influence of a fresh wave of glass design in the 1950s can be seen in the elongated form of this glass serving bowl. The shape reflects the move to aerodynamic shapes during this era.
     Although modern shapes were appreciated during this era, traditional techniques and patterns were continued to be made and updated, as can be seen in the sandblasting, gilding and cutting, as well as the style of the leaf ornament of the dessert bowls that accompany the glass serving bowl.

Ceramics Precious Metals DITSONG National Museum Cultural History Glass-serving-bowl
Glass serving bowl decorated with a band of an applied gold leaf stem with leaves interspersed by a single leaf pattern in intaglio (incised), and parallel to this, a semi-opaque sandblasted band. It comes from a set comprising a serving bowl and six matching small dessert bowls. Country of origin unknown. Late 1950s

These objects in the DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History’s (DNMCH) collection are significant for their capacity to interpret and demonstrate aspects of changing styles of tableware in the 1950s. They encapsulate a time capsule of this amazing era and reflect all it stood for – modern aerodynamic shapes combined with the revival of traditional patterns.
     The DNMCH explores South Africa’s cultural diversity in various permanent and temporary exhibitions. These include rock paintings and engravings of the San hunter-gatherers; thousand-year-old Iron Age figurines from Schroda in the Limpopo Province (described as ‘the best-known artefacts indicating ritual behaviour in the Early Iron Age’); the Objects with Stories exhibition, which presents objects and themes relating to the Museum’s collection; and an exhibition on Marabastad is a true example of a cosmopolitan and fully integrated rainbow nation before apartheid. The museum also houses the Robert Sobukwe exhibition as well as the Poisoned Pasts exhibition. It is one of the eight museums belonging to the DITSONG: Museums of South Africa. These are the DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History, DITSONG: National Museum of Natural History, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History, DITSONG: Kruger Museum, DITSONG: Pioneer Museum, DITSONG: Sammy Marks Museum, DITSONG: Willem Prinsloo Agricultural Museum and DITSONG: Tswaing Meteorite Crater. 

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