A Blue on White Delight

This last weekend was dedicated to orientation at the school where I work. For some years now, we have held it at the Crieff Conference Centre, a lovely locale run by the Presbyterians in our part of the world. The event is always inspiring in many ways, and although year to year admits a kind of litany of repeat questions, and worries, and excitements there is always something unique in the tone of each student speaking and in the collective voice that takes my breath away. I am grateful for this.

On the years when the weather is in our favour, my wife meets me on the last day, after chapel at Sunset Villa. This latter is just down the road from Crieff. It consists of a Danish restaurant and a holiday trailer park, where Danes from years past – and now their families – spent and spend their summers and weekends. We often park one of the cars there and scurry down to Lake Ontario to sail. This was the very thing we did this last Sunday, but there was a garage sale at the Villa, so we dropped in to see that.

This garage sale had many of the things one would expect to see at a garage sale: trinkets, clothing, curios, out of date electronics, record albums etc. As one would anticipate at a Danish garage sale, there were also the famous blue plates, some Royal Copenhagen and some Bing and Grøndahl. If you frequent Danish households in Canada you are sure to find some of these on the walls. They serve as aides de memoire of origins and special events. People will often buy a plate for special years: anniversaries, births, retirements and such. There was a rather handsome stack of such plates, but they didn’t catch my wife’s eyes, so much as a table set in the very middle of the garage sale “garage.”

Here a table was set as one might expect, with crystal for wine, schnapps and water, as well as a candelabra and dinner plates. But here too was the surprise. The dinner plates were white, with Danish blue plates laid on them. This was unfamiliar to us: using decorative plates for the first course. We didn’t know if people actually did this, or if it was for effect. The latter most certainly the case, and led me to thinking about our relationship to things.

Things are designed for a purpose, but rather like the words we write, or the poems we bleed, or the songs we breathe, once they leave us they take on a life of their own. It struck me anew that this is just as true for things as for words. There a piece of art becomes a use thing, and a use thing becomes a piece of art. And here a tool to make a sculpture is taken up into the sculpture itself. Designers’ intentions are thwarted by human imagination, and the sovereignty of the artist is usurped by some soul who imagines an instance of art commandeered to host a smørrebrød of herring on rye; and in so doing making a table setting to be a kind of art.

Theologians talk at length of the image of God, defining in sundry ways what this might be. I think I incline to a more fulsome than minimalist definition, and upon seeing those blue on white plates can well imagine that this imago Dei is also a way to say that people are finally just plain old interesting: both students with their heady questions and elderly Danish ladies upending my sense of what is what with the simplest and unexpected use of something beautiful.

4 thoughts on “A Blue on White Delight

  1. shoreacres says:

    There’s quite a display of those B&G plates at the Danish Museum in Danevang, Texas. It was settled by Danes from the upper midwest, and they’ve certainly kept the culture alive. My mother had some of the plates, too — although once she was gone, the plates were among those of her possessions that went elsewhere.

    I did keep a Kosta Boda plate showing the Madonna and Child, but that’s for decoration only — no herring or rye bread on that! Besides, Kosta Boda is Swedish. 🙂

    It’s true, though. What’s utilitarian and what’s art is much more fluid than we usually think. That’s what the arts and crafts movement made to wonderfully clear: even the most utilitarian item should be, and can be, beautiful and pleasure giving, just as the decorative arts, especially, should be accessible to all.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Wow, that is a beautiful plate. It would just seem wrong to eat on the Kosta Boda. How nice you were able to keep it. Much was and is learned from the arts and crafts movement, and it all comes with an invitation to bring beauty into all aspects of our lives. A good thing indeed!

  2. LC Mueller says:

    Huh, (Long Pause) so interesting! Using Danish plates for food. My mind is blown, as they say on Facebook. I know a couple who were married for over 20 years and never used one of their wedding gifts, namely an elegant stainless steel cutlery set, to carry food to their mouths. It was not even displayed but safely tucked away in a case. Then the couple divorced and it became an albatross, a proverbial elephant in a case, rather than just cutlery, and I know at least one of them wondered why they hadn’t just used this set for every day. I decided a few years ago that we would use everything in this house – or get rid of it. So we use it all daily with the exception of the danish plates which stand on guard at the back of the China Cabinet. I forgot that they are plates, not pictures, not relics, not holy, but plates. We will use them. Yes. Would my danish grandmothers have been delighted or horrified.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Ha! I really only knew one of your grandmothers, and I am sure she would giggle, although I doubt that she would take up the practice! Let me know how it goes. Gwenanne was sure looking hard at that table, and it could be that we will end up using ours as well. It may seem sacrilegious to some, but actually these plates are found all over the place, and are not necessarily keep-sakes. I make a curried herring with enough herring in the sour cream that hosts the herring to make it all a lovely buttery yellow. That would look quite nice on a dark rye sitting on blue!

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