Thursday, 20 February 2014

Willow Pattern

Two birds flying high,
A Chinese vessel, sailing by.
A bridge with three men, sometimes four,
A willow tree, hanging o'er.
A Chinese temple, there it stands,
Built upon the river sands,
An apple tree, with apples on,
A crooked fence to end my song.
The childhood home that I grew up in had an oak plate rack running around the dining room walls.  It held my mother's eclectic collection of blue and white china some of which was willow pattern. As a child I recall looking at the plates and wondering about the story behind the design - two love birds at the top, a little boat on a lake, three people crossing a Chinese style bridge, a Pagoda, a zigzag fence, and of course the depiction of the willow tree itself.
Willow Pattern is often assumed to be a story from China, but it was a tale conceived in England by Mintons, one of the major ceramics manufacturers, to promote and encourage people to buy their willow pattern wares.
The Romantic Fable
Once there was a wealthy Mandarin, who had a beautiful daughter (Koong-se). She had fallen in love with her father's humble accounting assistant (Chang), angering her father. It was inappropriate for them to marry due to their difference in social class. He dismissed the young man and built a high fence around his house to keep the lovers apart. The Mandarin was planning for his daughter to marry a powerful Duke. The Duke arrived by boat to claim his bride, bearing a box of jewels as a gift. The wedding was to take place on the day the blossom fell from the apple tree.
On the eve of the daughter's wedding to the Duke, the young accountant, disguised as a servant, slipped into the palace unnoticed. As the lovers escaped with the jewels, the alarm was raised. They ran over a bridge, chased by the Mandarin, whip in hand. They eventually escaped on the Duke's ship to the safety of a secluded island, where they lived happily for years. But one day, the Duke learned of their refuge. Hungry for revenge, he sent soldiers, to capture the lovers and put them to death. The gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves.


54 comments:

  1. A beautiful story. The Willow Pattern is a classic in its beautiful blues and white. I embroidered a set of three willow pattern doilies as a teenager.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wonder if you still have the willow pattern doilies that you embroidered?

      Delete
  2. Our garden is full of shards of pottery ... I love it when I recognise little details of willow pattern in the earth, while weeding.
    The animation is lovely... though the music had a strange troubling effect on my ginger studio assistant!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry about the strange effect on your little ginger studio assistant. The video was actually used for the 'Garden Greats' exhibition held at the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich.

      Delete
  3. Like you, I too gazed at these plates as a child, trying to decipher the story, and enjoying the quaint design of the Willow Pattern, Rosemary. It is so delightful to watch the animation and see the story unfold. You have definitely brought a smile to my face today! Lovely post, thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good - I am really pleased you enjoyed seeing it Patricia. As a child the pattern really seems to draw you right into its design.

      Delete
  4. That is very interesting regarding the Willow pattern story. I have the same dinner set which I use as our daily one, Made in England. It was a gift to us from my late mother many years ago.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Is yours Minton? - I know there are several variations on a theme as some of the other potteries copied it.

      Delete
    2. Mine is Churchill, Rosemary...we use the dinner set in the dishwasher everyday, sometimes in the microwave, no harm has come to it, it's just as good as the day my late mother gave it to us.

      Delete
    3. That is interesting that your vintage set is capable of going in the dishwasher and also the microwave.

      Delete
  5. What a lovely and interesting post. I remember my mother having numerous pieces of Willow pattern. Also, like Celia (commenting above) I often find little pieces of Willow pattern when digging in our garden.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We never find pottery in our ground - only fossils, but I can imagine examining shards of Willow pattern and looking to see which part of the design it is from.

      Delete
  6. It is funny thing that this story was invented to sell china, but boy, did it sell a lot. It is still so popular all these years later!! xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that it could be on another resurgence Amy - classic/vintage is really popular today.

      Delete
  7. Lovely post Rosemary and so interesting especially the video clip. I have a Willow dinner set in my loft which I think I may have to get down to use again. Thank you for this
    Patricia x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, do bring it down Patricia, I am sure you would enjoy using it again, and then you can also relate the tale to your grandchildren.

      Delete
  8. I'm so glad to learn all these stories in an English I can almost perfectly understand! China pieces are really precious and fabulous!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am pleased that you enjoyed learning the story Olympia - by the way your English is absolutely perfect ✔

      Delete
  9. My best friends mother had a corner cupboard in her dinning room with these lovely dishes. I never knew the story or that there was a story. Thank you for sharing it. You brought back memories of a very nice time in my life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Lisa - so pleased that this post took you down memory lane to a very nice time in your life - I am delighted.

      Delete
  10. Dear Rosemary,
    How I love this story. I remember reading about it years ago, when I took up my ceramic painting.
    I love the Willow Pattern. Did you end up with some of them.. i do hope so.
    The originals are worth a fortune today.
    A sad tale told.. and the plates became famous.
    lovely post Rosemary. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Val - I do not have any of my mother's blue and white china, in fact now I think about it I do wonder what happened to it? I do have quite a bit of blue and white myself, but curiously no Willow pattern.
      Glad that you enjoyed the post.

      Delete
  11. I learn so much from your blog Rosemary!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Dear Rosemary,

    I ate off of Willow Pattern plates at my grandmother's house, and she used to love to tell the story, though it was never quite as complete as in your telling. In her version, the lovers didn't die, but simply shape-shifted into doves. (I'm guessing she was simply reaching for a happier ending for my benefit!) At any rate, the popularity of Willow certainly shows what a romantic story can do for sales. But then again, I'm old enough to remember that for years this lovely pattern could be found in Five and Dimes stores throughout our country.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Mark - Granny was right the gods taking pity on them transformed them into a pair of doves, I am sure before they died, that is what I would like to believe too. I wonder if Minton's ever received royalties from their design?

      Delete
  13. Hi Rosemary, Although, as you say, Willow pattern is an English invention, and the Willow made in Asia was for export, but by now the pattern has become "naturalized" and you sometimes see it over here. Like Celia Hart, I have often found bits of Willow in the woods or by riverbanks in America.
    --Jim

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Jim - Willow pattern is universal now, but its origins are interesting and not necessarily what many people would expect.

      Delete
  14. Dear Rosemary,
    such a coincidence: I search for poetry on willow.trees at the moment! Blue-white China is also a collection of mine - I can imagine that you as a child was fascinated by the 'Chinese' pictures.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is interesting Britta - do you know Christina Rossetti's poem 'In the Willow Shade"?
      Blue and white china does have a strong appeal - I also have some which sits on a burnt sienna coloured Chinese trunk which compliments the blue and white nicely.

      Delete
  15. Like you this china was part of my childhood and as a result I have a love of blue and white china. That's a lovely video that you have found to illustrate the story. Sarah x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The video was a special commission for the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich. They had an exhibition called Garden Greats in 2007.

      Delete
  16. Dear Rosemary,

    I enjoyed reading the story behind the 'willow pattern'. I have a large collection of blue and white china, but the willow pattern is not one of them. It is very pretty though! I collect 'English scene' by Broadhurst instead. Its beautiful as well and does have the same 'feel' to it.

    Madelief x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Broadhurst have quite a lot of different designs that they put on their pottery - I think English scene has a pastoral quality to it with trees and meadows if my memory serves me correctly.

      Delete
  17. Now I know the story behind one of my favorite transferware patterns. Thanks, Rosemary! I love it!! Where is your mother's collection today?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Loi - I wish I knew where my mother's collection is!!! - I haven't got it.

      Delete
  18. och...what a tragic story in the small movie.
    I didin't know this pattern, verry nice.

    Greetings,
    Inge, my choice

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Inge - putting a tale to the pattern was a very clever marketing ploy of the potteries.

      Delete
  19. Hi Rosemary, I love and collect blue and white china (on a modest scale, though). So the vision of a dining room surrounded by an oak plate rack holding your mother's blue and white china collection is quite enchanting to me! I have heard the story of the willow pattern design before, but I thought it was a true old story coming from China. So it is a little bit disappointing to read that it is only a marketing gig of the manufacturers those days. Still it is a lovely story! Wishing you a nice rest of the week!
    Christina

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Christina - I hope that I have not destroyed your romance of the story too much - it was a very clever ploy of Minton's to come up with the idea. Perhaps they were a little bit too clever as lots of other potteries then went on to copy their design.

      Delete
  20. I love blue and white china , how wonderful to have a full rack , and I enjoyed reading the romantic tale . xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was my mother who had the plate rack full of blue and white but sadly I have no idea what became of it.

      Delete
  21. Hello Rosemary:
    We shall now look at our Willow Pattern platter, for such it is, with new interest and insight. This is a most fascinating post and, as always, beautifully presented.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Jane and Lance - my heart skipped a beat when I saw your avatar - how lovely to hear from you both.
      I do hope that all is well with you, and that you have returned refreshed from all of your travels and ventures.

      Delete
  22. What a lovely post, Rosemary. I didn't know the romantic fable and I enjoyed discovering it and watching the video. The willow pattern is so familiar and I'm pleased I know more about it now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Wendy - glad you enjoyed the little video - The Sainsbury Centre in Norwich had an exhibition called Garden Greats and the video was made for that.

      Delete
  23. A lovely post - most interesting about the story- because we are all familiar with the pattern I don't suppose we actually thought about the story behind it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your kind comment and visit - please call again.

      Delete
  24. I love blue and white pottery, but sadly it has gone out of fashion. So, if I'm not buying for myself but to re-sell, I have to make sure these lovely pieces are at a bargain price.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The antique and vintage market is a fickle business.

      Delete
  25. Such a beautiful story. I love those patterns with blue and white. Happy Sunday, Rosemary!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Same to you too Satu - pleased that you enjoyed learning the story.

      Delete
  26. My youngest sister would love this, Rosemary, as she is a keen collector of blue and white china, including willow pattern. I have a couple of very large willow pattern platters, passed down to me by my mother-in-law - large enough to take the Christmas turkey. :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are fortunate to have a platter in willow pattern that large Perpetua - it must look very attractive with a turkey sitting on it.

      Delete

❖PLEASE NOTE❖ Comments made by those who hide their identity will be deleted

“You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you - you have to go to them sometimes”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh