Project aims

Green: cantonal inventory completed; yellow: work in progress since 2022.

The main aim of the “CERAMICA CH” image database is to create a national inventory of modern-era pottery (1500–1950) held in public collections throughout Switzerland. The goal is to make the ceramic heritage accessible to as many interested parties as possible so that it may serve as a basis for future in-depth studies. The image database is aimed at ceramic specialists and curators of university and museum collections, students of cultural history subjects (history, art history, folklore studies, archaeology and European ethnology) as well as pottery lovers, collectors and auction houses.

Because of recent developments in museography, most museums in Switzerland dedicated to cultural history subjects are no longer in a position to present specific holdings such as pottery collections in representative permanent exhibitions. Various institutions still maintain important collections of wares from several Swiss centres of production (e.g. Nyon, Kilchberg-Schooren near Zurich, Carouge near Geneva, Matzendorf, Langnau, Bäriswil, Blankenburg, Langenthal, Winterthur, Berneck, St. Antönien) focusing on different aspects of the history of pottery. Today, however, they have largely been relegated to storage facilities and collections repositories.

Taking as comprehensive an approach as possible, we aim to shine a light on the heritage that still exists in various Swiss cantons. As a matter of principle, we devote the same care and attention to the more modest objects from regional and national workshops as we do to the masterpieces from large manufacturers. The material has been selected according to a broad range of criteria, which means that 90 percent of the objects available for examination have been included in the database. CERAMICA CH is devoted to all European products dating from the period between 1500 and 1950 as well as objects from the Orient, which have traditionally been linked to the history of Europe. Moreover, the database commonly includes all figurative ceramic objects as well as all items that could possibly be viewed as falling into the categories “ceramic bric-a-brac/decorative ceramics”, “souvenirs/mementos” and “miniature vessels/doll’s house ceramics”.

In order to ensure that the number of objects remains manageable, archaeological finds, stove tiles and architectural ceramics have largely been omitted for now. Ceramic parts of dolls (heads, legs, complete dolls) or fragments of clay pipes have not been included. One exception has been made, however: clay pipes with a decorative pattern clearly relating to Switzerland have been entered into the database.

So far, the objects from three cantons (Neuchâtel, Solothurn and Vaud) have been recorded in their entirety and published in print. In the spring of 2021, the data from these cantons were also entered into the database. The next phase of the project involved recording the objects from the production centres in Canton Bern (Bäriswil and Langnau). From 2018, the collections of Canton Graubünden were systematically recorded and entered into the database one museum at a time. This phase of the work was completed in October 2021. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the work in 2020 and 2021 had to be slightly restructured. As a result, the collections of the company Kunstkeramik Luzern AG from the History Museum in Lucerne were fully documented.

The Canton Bern inventory has been extended since the spring of 2022, beginning with the objects designed by Abraham Marti, a potter from Blankenburg. The ceramic collections in Canton Bern’s museums are the largest in Switzerland (more than 10,000 objects in total). The collections of the Regionalmuseum Langnau, the Heimatmuseum Trubschachen, Stiftung Hasenlehn and the Schule für Gestaltung Bern und Biel have now been recorded in full. The next step, in 2023 and 2024, will be to add the large collection from the Stiftung Schloss Thun.

CERAMICA CH does not claim to constitute an exhaustive inventory in the true sense of the word, with in-depth studies on every object. Nevertheless, we aim to build a documentation which includes the most up-to-date research and to propose working hypotheses with regard to some of the items, which may be confirmed by other researchers or might be verified or refuted as the work progresses in other regions. As the inventory grows, the increasing number of records will facilitate the formation of material groups that belong together from a typological or stylistic point of view, and it will become easier to provide more precise dates and attributions, which will perhaps allow us to identify certain regional production lines that are currently unknown or have been forgotten – in short, to lay the groundwork for future studies.

To facilitate access to the texts, we aim to make the information available in three languages (German, French and English). This goal, however, will not be achieved until the end of 2027.

Roland Blaettler and Andreas Heege, March 2023