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Friday, March 29, 2013

The BLUE WILLOW



Joseph Cruze Sr had just delivered a herd of cattle to Kansas.  After settling the business of the sale, the first thing Joseph wanted to do was wash to trail dust off, take a shave and walk down to the mercantile.  Most of the other boys where interested in heading over to the saloon but Joseph had recently married the Miss Mary May Cox of Hays County. 

A negro lady had taken Joseph's clothes to launder as he sat in the tub scrubbing the cakes of trail dust off. He sat there until the water had grown cold a second time. By then, the woman had returned with his clothes, freshen from the wash and drying in the open air. 

After dressing, Joseph came down stairs feeling like he had been reborn. As he strolled along the wood side walks, he located a barber shop where he received a shave and hair cut for .25 cents.  A young boy worked on polishing his boots that cost him another dime.  

Once more, stepping out to stroll the street of Dodge City, he saw a large sign, "York, Parker and Draper Mercantile Company."  He cross the street and entered the building when a young man, M.R. Draper asked, "May I help you sir."  Joseph nodded and asked what they had in dinner ware.  Mr Draper walked Joseph across the store showing him the different sets of dishes displayed.  

"We just received this set, Mr Cruze. It's imported all the way from England."  As Joseph looked at the many different sets of fine porcelains, he glanced again to the attractive blue and white china. "What's this call," questioned Joseph.  "Blue Willow, sir. It's a service for eight and comes with the accessories for tea and serving," replied Mr. Draper.  Joseph questioned what service for eight meant while Mr.  Draper explained every detail about china.  Joseph asked, "What does you wife have" when Mr. Draper answered explaining "Cora died last November" but she was always fond of this Blue Willow set.  Joseph, felt his wife would be fond of the set too as they used mostly tin plates back home at his Texas ranch.  "How much for the set" asked Joseph.  "That will be $26 dollars, sir."  Joseph explain this was going to be carried in the chuckwagon back to Texas when Mr. Draper recommended they could crate and package the set to prevent it from breaking.  

The boys stayed in town for two more days, when Joseph return to the store to pick up the china and a few yards of linen in addition to the standard supplies for the return back to Texas.  Mr. Draper explained, "Mr Cruze, we hand wrapped each piece in paper, then set in the crate filled with wood shavings.  I believe it's better packed now than when it was shipped to us from England."  Joseph loaded the crate containing the set of Blue Willow on the wagon for the return home.  As the wranglers all mounted up, one lad asked what is in the large crate when Joseph answered,  "It's the wedding gift for my wife."

It would be another month before riding home to Loneman Creek, in Hays County, near the Blanco River.  Joseph upon retiring, sold the Cruze Ranch to his son S. J. Cruze, in 1917, and moved to San Antonio with my wife and two daughters, Margaret and Addie, and grandson, Forest Harlan. They still had the Blue Willow serving set.  


The attractive Blue Willow pattern is the longest running pattern of all china. For centuries, Blue and White china had been shipped to Europe from China as early as the 15th century. It was so popular, Queen Mary II started her own collection and even had a special cabinet made to house her porcelains from China. This is where we got the name for a “china cabinet.” 

However, as Blue Willow, a general pattern emerged just over 200 years ago that has been reproduce time after time. Many early pieces were not marked, making it difficult to determine a value without testing for its true age. However, even modern pieces have been left unmarked, though you can see a difference in the porcelain. 

By the mid-1700s the British potters were gaining the knowledge to produce wares in an effort to compete with the Chinese imports. In the late 1700s an Irishman named John Brooks invented “transfer printing” which allowed pieces to be mass-produced from patterns engraved on copper plates. This eliminated the need for the time-consuming hand painting of each piece. Thus, The East India Trading Company stop importing of Chinese Porcelains for a time. Josiah Spode developed an improved paper for transfer printing on pearlware and began a replacement service for Chinese porcelain patterns in addition to supplying complete dinner and tea services in many different Chinese landscape patterns. Spode wares could be sold much cheaper than the costly imported Chinese porcelains and Caughley porcelains, making the products available to the middle classes. It is believed, Spode copied the pattern which is actually created by a ceramicist Thomas Minton around 1790 and there is a folklore love story behind Blue Willow, although while it is supposed to be a Chinese folklore, more likely, the story was created by Minton too.
 
It was in this climate that the standard willow pattern was first produced on pearlware at the Spode factory by 1790. During the 1800's over 200 different English factories made Blue Willow while today, I know of two who continue to make these fine pieces. Churchill of England makes a quality set normally marketed as a specialty item for other retailers while higher priced Johnson Brothers of England manufacture a full set available in larger department stores. 



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 willow 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, who captured the lovers and put them to death. The gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves (possibly a later addition to the tale, since the birds do not appear on the earliest willow pattern plates).


The Secret Shaolin Message
The Shaolin Monastery is burned by the Imperial troops of the Manchu rulers, called invaders by Chinese nationalist and later communist factions. Souls of the dead monks take a boat to the isle of the Blest. On the bridge are three Buddha's awaiting the dead souls: Sakyamuni, the Buddha of the Past; Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future; and, Amitabha, the Ruler of the Western Paradise. Beyond them is the City of Willows – Buddhist Heaven. The doves are the monks' souls on the journey from human to immortal life.
The teller narrates the tale while pointing to various designs on the plate.





The old poem
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.



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