Margaret Watson Parker


Margaret Selkirk Watson (1867-1936) was born in Vermont and raised in Evanston, Illinois. [5] The third daughter of a prominent banker and real estate broker, Watson entered Northwestern University in Evanston at age sixteen. She studied there for three years but did not complete her degree. Little else is known about her youth.

By 1900 Watson was acquiring Japanese woodblock prints from Evanston collector Charles J. Morse (1852-1911). During a visit to the New York shop of dealer Rufus E. Moore, Morse introduced her to Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), the great art collector and founding benefactor of the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. [6] Morse visited Freer in Detroit on several occasions; twice with his wife and Miss Watson, first from March 31 to April 4, 1901, and again from January 20 to 23, 1905. Watson's collecting interests and her discerning eye caught Freer's attention, and she was influenced by his ideas and collecting interests. [7] Certainly his interest in Rakka ware from ancient Syria and Pewabic Pottery were two examples. Freer acquired his first Rakka piece in 1902 and began acquiring Pewabic Pottery at about the same time. [8] Watson purchased an example of Rakka ware (see: 1948_1.116) in 1905 [9] , and her first recorded purchase of Pewabic Pottery was in April 1906.[10] Her interest in Pewabic Pottery continued until the time of her death. She purchased often, not only pieces for herself but also gifts for family and friends.

Miss Watson married Detroit ophthalmologist Dr. Walter R. Parker in 1907, and they settled in Detroit. She joined the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts in 1909, where she acquired works by contemporary local artists [11] . During the 1911-1912 season, she invited the Society's membership to her Seminole Avenue residence on four afternoons to see her "collection of fine old Japanese prints and brocades" [12] . She and Dr. Parker contributed financially and were socially active members of the Society.

Margaret Watson Parkers decision to bequeath her art collection to the University of Michigan was influenced by Freer's benevolence in giving his collection to the nation [13] . As early as 1917, she made a long-term, anonymous loan to the Detroit Museum of Art of a painting and four etchings by James McNeill Whistler, four portfolios of Japanese woodblock prints, paintings by Dwight W. Tryon, Alfred Stevens, Adolphe Monticelli, George Innes and Albert Neuhuys, a group of small animal bronzes by Edward Kemeys, a "choice" piece of Rakka pottery (see: 1948_1.116) and a selected group of seven pieces of Pewabic Pottery (see: 1954_1.480 , 1955_1.14 , 1954_1.479 ) [14] .

The purposefulness of Mrs. Parker's assembling this collection for its future home at the University of Michigan is evident. The University already owned one significant example of Pewabic Pottery, a vessel (see: 1972_2.161) purchased by Emil Lorch for the School of Architecture from the Mrs. Henry O. Havemeyer sale in New York on June 22, 1930, for $21.25 [15] . Mrs. Parker had purchased the mate to this piece from Pewabic Pottery on May 30, 1931, for $100. When the collection was to be sent to the University of Michigan, Mrs. Stratton substituted another jar for the Parker piece to avoid duplication. The Parker jar was given by Mrs. Stratton to the San Diego Fine Arts Gallery in 1941. [16]

Following Mrs. Parkers sudden death in 1936, [17] Dr. Walter R. Parker asked Mrs. Stratton to review a group of the Pewabic pieces to be given to the University of Michigan, and she prepared an annotated inventory of the forty pieces. [18] Mrs. Stratton's handwritten notations are printed in italics underneath the images and on the exhibition labels. Free-form and poetic in style, her comments provide valuable information concerning glazes, the date of production, and Stratton' s perception of her vessels.

The Parker collection of Pewabic Pottery is remarkable because it clearly demonstrates that Mrs. Stratton's artistic development did not proceed in a linear progression but rather evolved in many directions simultaneously as she investigated specific design or glaze problems. Miss Perry described Pewabics philosophy and goals in an article she wrote in approximately 1916:

It is not the aim of the pottery to become an enlarged, systematised commercial manufactory, in competition with others striving in the same way. Its idea has always been to attempt to solve progressively the various ceramic problems that arise in the hope of working out results and artistic effects which may happily remain as memorials, or which may at least stamp this generation as one which has brought about a revival of the ceramic art, and prove an inspiration for those who are to come after us. [19]

Four of the vessels in the exhibition (see: 1972_2.185 , 1972_2.167 , 1954_1.477 , 1954_1.478 ) were made by Mary Chase Perry's husband, William Buck Stratton (1865-1938), who explored sculptural aspects of clay and extrapolated the theory of dynamic symmetry used in architecture to form his theory of the whirling square. The Strattons exhibited jointly in the 1938 Contemporary Decorative Art exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art. [20] Some collectors regard the William B. Stratton pieces as interesting Depression era dalliances, not independent art works. The Toledo exhibition refutes that notion, and it is clear from the date of 1972_2.185 that William Stratton was engaged in his ceramic exploration as early as 1927.