Posted By whatsitworth on February 24, 2012
I have a question about a platter I inherited. It is made of ceramic and is 10 inches in diameter. The front is decorated with three fish and the bottom is signed. My aunt and uncle were devout Catholics so I’m wondering if this piece was from a church.
I never thought of it that way! Your theory does make some sense because you equate the ubiquitous fish symbol seen on automobiles with a symbol of Christianity – specifically of Jesus Christ. The rough style of the potting and glaze combined with the sgraffito fish images does look like something the Catholic church may have adopted under Pope Paul VI’s Second Vatican Ecumenical Council ended in 1965, ushering in a friendlier, more accessible Catholic church. Your plate could have been used as a ciborium, the platter from which the consecrated Eucharist is given in communion.
There are a number of fascinating theories about how the fish symbol became associated with Christianity (one of which this family newspaper will not print). The one that makes the most sense to me is the straightforward acronym theory.
IXQUS is the ancient Greek word for fish. If you take the first letters of the Greek phrase Jesus Christ Son of God, Savoir you get the acronym “fish”. This was a safe and easy way to recognize other Christians in a period when Christians were persecuted for their faith.
So while your plate may have been appropriate as a Eucharistic vessel, it was likely enjoyed as a piece of mid-century Californian craftsmanship by ceramicist Antonio Prieto.
Antonio Prieto (1912-1967) was a ceramic artist and teacher in the 1940s through the 1960s. He taught ceramics at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now the California College of Art) but is best remembered for his influential tenure at Oakland’s Mills College, which lasted from 1950 until his death in 1967.
During this time Prieto mentored and partnered with premiere ceramic artists of the day including Peter Voulkos, Robert Arneson and Viola Frey. Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was the personal collection of primarily Northern California ceramics. On his death the entire collection of was donated to the Mills College Art Museum to expand the collection of ceramics acquired by the ceramics guild since 1930. To honor Prieto’s contribution to and encouragement of ceramic arts, a number of other ceramicists donated works to the collection in his memory. The collection now stands at over 400 pieces.
Your plate has just the right combination of type of organic and textured form combined with muted glazes that Prieto favored. Were this nice example of Northern California mid-century art pottery come to auction it would have a pre-sale value of $200-400.
Interestingly, the Greek for “thank you” is eucaristw (efharisto) is the root of Eucharist. I have a flying spaghetti monster on my bumper.