The Blue Mountain Pottery Angelfish
A Star is Reborn
In many areas of antiques and collectibles, it is sometimes curious why a particular item catches the attention of collectors. Possible reasons include: rarity, colour, size, style, price, age and designer. When it happens, acquisitive desire drives the price higher and faster than it would otherwise go. The angelfish made by Blue Mountain Pottery in Collingwood, Ontario, provides a fascinating case study.
First produced in the mid 1950s, the angelfish was illustrated in the earliest known Blue Mountain Pottery catalogue as number 58. Its popularity continued into the mid 1980s when it was discontinued. A 30-year production run of any item in the burgeoning trend-conscious consumer market of the postwar period is quite remarkable.
The name angelfish was given to number 58 by collectors. Early Blue Mountain Pottery catalogues identify each item only by a model number, while later ones use numbers as well as names. Number 58 was called Fish. Since other Blue Mountain Pottery figures were also called Fish, using the name angelfish avoids any confusion when referring to this piece. (Number 58 became 1-058 in the 1970s when prefix numbers 1 through 6 were used to identify different types of items. Category 1 included vases, jugs and decorative figures. Prefix coding was dropped by 1980. When the number of models reached 1,000, the angelfish became 0058.)
"It's a very imaginative design," says Dr. Richard Winterbottom, ichthyology curator at the Royal Ontario Museum. "It doesn’t really look like any specific kind fish, but has some similarity to the black crappie found in Georgian Bay. I think, however, it’s more an impressionistic interpretation of a South American freshwater angelfish that is common in the aquarium trade -- but with a big bite out of the top of it!"
Although the angelfish was usually made with Blue Mountain Pottery’s traditional streaky green glaze, it did appear in the company’s harvest gold (brown and yellow) collection and was featured on the cover of the 1981 Harvest Gold catalogue . Examples in other popular glazes such as mocha, slate, jade, red or blue have not been seen by collectors or found in known Blue Mountain Pottery catalogues. But a few collectors do have a rare green example with a blue base. Since the angelfish itself is supported by a pedestal of waves, it seems only appropriate that the water be blue. "The angelfish looks more interesting when its base is blue," says collector Sharon Bennett of Parry Sound. "The all-green fish are very attractive too, but the blue reminds me of a sparkling lake in summer. This angelfish is one of my prized pieces of Blue Mountain Pottery."
|The angelfish was designed by Dennis (Zdenek) Tupy. Born in Breznice, Czechoslovakia in 1929, he completed the three-year program at the Strední prumyslova skola keramicka (Secondary School of Industrial Ceramics, founded 1884, www.keramichkaskola.cz) in the town of Bechyne. Tupy graduated at the top of his class, specializing in design and mould making. Escaping military service in his homeland, Tupy came to Canada in 1951, eventually settling in Collingwood where he worked for fellow Czech Jozo (Josef) Weider (1909-1971), owner of the Blue Mountain Winter Park ski resort. With Weider’s assistance Tupy began Blue Mountain Pottery in 1953 at the age of 24. "Dennis, do something big!" Weider said one day according to Tupy who is now 76 years old and still living in Collingwood. "So I made the fish," explains Tupy. "It’s what came into my head. My ghost told me to do it." Tupy often uses the word "ghost" to explain the source of his design inspiration. It seems a fitting term, similar to "voice" or "muse." It's the unpretentious way he puts his superlative talent into words. It is how he explains the way his mind and hands work together.|
|Exactly where the idea for a huge flat fish came from is anybody's guess. It was, after all, a half century ago, and Tupy doesn't remember everything his muse told him that day. No matter, the angelfish design sprung from his genius. And equally important, it was exceptionally stylish for the time.|