Beautiful Craftsmanship: Ceramic Board Games

My family traveled cross-country often and we played games like “I See Something” on the road. When at home, my little brothers and I could often be found  huddled around a classic game board game. Then, when our family visited my mother’s relatives, we’d all sit around grandma’s big table for a game, usually during the holidays. These days, when I go home, no trip is complete without packing as many people as we can around a game.

GO SETS: In the late 70s, I learned the rudiments of Go, the ancient Asian game of strategy that is somewhere around 4000 years old. Go is more complex than chess; a person could spend a lifetime learning it. Go stones were originally made of natural materials, often clay. A Pictorial History of the Game of Go does just that and it’s definitely worth looking at for learning the background about this ancient game. Here’s a beautiful photo from olden days of Koreans playing the game. The British Master Games site carries high quality go bowls made of beech and limewoods. It’s true…you can spend a lot of moolah on a fine Go set, but you don’t have to unless you want to. The Go

Game Store sells inexpensive porcelain and ceramic stones. People become very serious about Go and the game is now a highly refined art, as the site, Sensei’s Library attests. Stones have been made of slate, shell, glass, quartz, agate, marble, jade, bone, wood, and ceramics. Feeling the weight and coolness of Go stones in your hand is a much more aesthetically-pleasing experience than using a computer program or playing online. The sensory experience is part of the game.

CHESS GAMES: An ancient game, at least 2000 years old, chess games originated in India. Because chess sets and boards are made up of different pieces, it means there’s more latitude for artistic interpretation. From what I can tell, depending upon the era and country, there have been many styles of chess pieces.

Some quality chess sets are fine art, so exacting is the work and craftmanship, so beautiful the designs, so lovely the materials. The Maryhill Museum in Goldendale, Washington, on the Columbia River, has a permanent exhibit of chess sets. Among its pieces is a set depicting the Madonna. The set is made of jasperware and wedgewood and it is exquisite. I must have been a teenager when my brother, Steve, taught me how to play chess. I have not kept it up but I am now inclined to take another look, as many of the pieces I’ve seen are objects of beauty and it would be a pleasurable experience to play with such pieces. I like marine biology and one of the most amazing chess sets I’ve come across is Meissen’s porcelain Sea Life set.  One is being auctioned off online and the starting bid is 4000 pounds… and is expected to garner anywhere from 8000 to 12,ooo pounds. A famous set designed by Max Esser in 1923, it’s described as having”one side a coral colour, the other side grey and white, kings and queens as sea anemones, bishops as lobsters, knights as sea horses, rooks as octopi, pawns as starfish, the king 8cm high, the pawn 1.5cm high,” according to the auction site. Closer to home and more accessible is a company called Clay Chess which makes contemporary sets. I like the “Down on the Farm”…it has little yellow ducks for pawns! These chess sets made in Kitchener, Ontario can be purchased online. The “Cottage Life” set includes frogs and loons…such a neat idea. They also make checker pieces which are quite nice. I especially like the ones with maples leaves. If you are interested in making your own chess set, eHow has a nice how-to article which will teach you how to make your own set with oven-hardening clay. There is no reason why you couldn’t follow the same set of instructions for your own ceramic set. I think it’d be great to have a game you made yourself and I might just make a one of my own!


About Jan

I have a background in ceramics, graphic design and journalism.
This entry was posted in Articles and Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s