KAW is the avid collector’s abbreviation for Kent Art Ware, inexpensive Art Deco Era ceramics from Japan. KAW offers a diverse selection of vintage figurines and utility pieces, many of which are seldom seen or even explored.
After two years of on-going research, a trip to Japan and a pinch of good luck, detailed on my Web site devoted to Kent Art Ware (www.KentArtWare.com), research shows it was probably not made by Noritake as often assumed by default, but by Hidekichi Nakamura’s Moriyama Pottery primarily during the 1920s and 1930s. (The Moriyama pottery opened in Japan’s Shizuoka prefecture in 1911.)
Each and every piece of KAW I have seen first-hand is stamped on the bottom, “Kent Art Ware – Japan.” It is a reasonable assumption, considering the name if nothing else, it was produced for export to English speaking countries, though I have yet to find it outside the U.S.
What I absolutely do know is histories I’ve read about 20th century Japanese export ceramics, Art Deco or otherwise, make no mention of Kent Art Ware, and to date no existing records of KAW have been discovered or made public in any country including Japan where, as was frequently the case, they may have been lost or destroyed during World War II.
More often than not KAW was offered in creamy white and sometimes in a brighter white. Some were cold-painted with gold accents, or fired partially painted in a limited number of colors, or far less frequently, fully painted.
As for aesthetic merits, I find the 30 or so pieces in my collection to be artistically uneven, and the same may be said of how well the greenware was prepared and painted prior to firing.
Some items are exceptionally lovely, like the delicate female head, the ball vase with its fish decoration, and the highly stylized female bookends, which have the distinction of having been reproduced by two other companies. The female holding a bowl is lovely, too (though I do get a bit weary of figurines imitating the photographed poses of Martha Graham circa 1935). The rooster has wonderful energy and the family of hippos makes me smile.
Critiques aside, one must remember KAW was not mass produced for the well-heeled, but for the growing number of middle-class Americans who lived and worked in the period we know as “Art Deco” – people who took the trolley downtown to purchase something special for their fireplace mantel perhaps – something eye-catching that the five and dimes and department stores had neatly clustered on their crowded shelves.
KAW may be found in all the usual places though not as frequently as more familiar makers of Art Deco Era ceramics. It does have its advantages for the collector. For one thing, it is safe to say KAW is not being reproduced, for there would be little profit motive in the “reproduction capital,” which is China.
Since KAW is not a hot collectible, prices tend to be reasonable.
Actor, writer, and puppeteer David Eaton has been collecting and selling antiques for 50 years. Eaton began collecting Kent Art Ware two years ago and may be reached through his Web site, www.KentArtWare.com.
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