Nineteenth century chalkware is truly folk art, meaning art made by everyday folk for their enjoyment. Chalkware was first sold in Massachusetts by a man named Henry Geyer who advertised them as plaster figures in the January 25, 1770 “Boston News-Letter.” They were meant as inexpensive copies of Staffordshire figurines, which were too pricey for the average person.
The term chalkware is not really accurate, since the medium used was not actually chalk but gypsum, the primary ingredient in plaster of Paris, which was molded and then painted with watercolors. The original gaudy colors faded over time, which is evident in this example. Beautiful large fruit-filled urns such as this one were commonly used as centerpieces. One of the fruits shown is a banana, which were introduced in America in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.
This piece is of hollow construction with an open base that has been felted. The plaster of Paris has a nice mellow off-white color, not a bright white like new material. It weighs 6 pounds, 13 ounces and the measurements are 13 inches tall, 12 inches long, 8 inches front to back and a base of 4 ½ by 3. There is a chipped corner on the base, a chipped leaf tip, a chip off one banana end, chips on the underside of the rim and some areas of paint loss on the urn, but none of that is glaringly obvious or detracts from its wonderful antique look. It has an excellent original surface and no repairs, restoration or repainting.
Antique chalkware pieces, especially fruit urns, are difficult to find. Like all great folk art, this piece would work well in a traditional or modern interior.