Holidays usually translate into family gatherings, and when families gather there are meals to be shared. The focus is usually on the food that is full of traditional offerings and everyone’s favorite. What is used to serve the food is often a second thought. Those plates are filled with the delicious food, washed when emptied, and then put in the cabinet till the next family gathering.
As a child I was a dreamer. Everything I noticed I made up a story to go with it. One particular everyday item that fueled my daydreams was my Maternal Grandmother’s go-to fancy dishes. They were the Blue Willow patterned dishes. By the time I came along (one of thirty grandchildren), her set was starting to dwindle and it was used less and less. Most of the time the dishes remained on display in her precious china cabinet. Being the nosy child, I would wander about that big old house, looking at all her “antiques”. I was constantly drawn to those Blue Willow dishes.
I knew nothing about exotic locations, or Asian designs, or pottery for that matter. But, I did know cartoons and fanciful thoughts. That was what that pattern was to me. For starters, it was a beautiful color: a rich blue against the white, with such interesting pictures within pictures. The longer you stared at it, the more you saw.
My imagination went wild!
I wanted to know who would dwell in that fancy garden by the arched bridge, where willow trees bend down, and birds fly above? Who are those guys walking on the bridge with fins for legs and carrying fishing poles? Wait, one looks like he has a surfboard? Where is that boat going? What kind of birds are those?
Not knowing the answers or even caring to find out, I made up storyline after storyline in my head. Plots and subplots. Each time I visited my Grandmother and gazed upon those dishes, I became more and more attached to my secret world that existed inside her wood and glass cabinet.
When my Grandmother died, the cabinet and dishes were passed onto one of her unmarried daughters. When she died, there was an attempt to sell the dishes, but my relatives were told they were not rare enough, or in good enough condition to be worth much.
I overheard what was said and became sad and elated. Sad that someone would dare say her precious dishes that she lovingly served meals to her family on, were devalued, yet, happy because they needed a new home. I agreed to keep the magical dishes safe. Cabinet and all came to dwell with me
What I later learned was that the Blue Willow pattern first became popular in the mid 1800s and standardized in England. I guess I wasn’t the only one to be smitten by the design. It became a fun side game for me to look in the china cabinets of museum homes, and in period movies for “my dishes”.
How old are my Grandmother’s dishes? I am still working on that. I know most of the pieces were given to her by my Grandfather’s sister. I was told she started to collect more after that. On several of the pieces is a trademark from Ridgeway Pottery in England that was one of the first to produce the blue and white transferware in the early 1800s. In the 1960s the company merged into Royal Doulton. The style of her trademark may put some of the dishes being made around the 1920s.
I was never sure my sons understood my attachment to these dishes and the cabinet, until our home was overrun with flooding during a hurricane. One of my sons was home at the time and before he got himself to a higher level, he only had time to move a couple items out of harm’s way. When I returned home I found all of my first floor possessions and furniture ruined, that is, expect my Grandmother’s cabinet and china! Moving that cabinet so quickly could not have been an easy task! What a wonderful gift he gave me. I guess they do listen to my ramblings!
I have since moved the china into another cabinet so it is more on display.
The set is not complete, and most are a tad chipped, or the glaze is cracked. I don’t mind because the beautiful color still persists, and each time I hold a piece and look at it, I am a child again thinking of the magical stories of what might be going on in that Blue Willow scene.
May your Spring Holiday of choice be filled with a colorful and cheery table surrounded by loving family and friends.
Is there really a legend behind the Blue Willow design?
If you do an internet search you will see there are several versions of the Blue Willow China Plate story. Most of them revolve around a girl who has a mean father who does not accept her common boyfriend. The young couple run away and are transformed into a pair of doves. There are many versions of this same plot in poetry, prose, and even a Silly Symphony by Walt Disney. You can also find YouTube videos telling the legend.
The first link is a pleasant narration that tells the whole story. The second is narrated by children with fun graphics.
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