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Mystery Object

Summer 2014: Culinary Molds

Culinary Molds, about 1750-1765. Staffordshire, England. Salt-glazed stoneware. Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Catherine H. Collins Collection.

Culinary Molds, about 1750-1765. Staffordshire, England. Salt-glazed stoneware. Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Catherine H. Collins Collection.

Still hungry from our last Mystery Object? How about something sweet? These Staffordshire jelly molds, made of salt-glazed stoneware, were a staple in 18th-century English dining culture.

In the second half of the 1700s, dining service à la française (“in the French style”) was at the height of its popularity. These dinners included a savory first course, a second course with a jelly or a pudding – often fruit-flavored – and a dessert course of sugar-based confections and dried fruits. The dining table was organized into an imaginary grid, and all of the courses were set out together much like a modern buffet.

An English table set in Service à la française, including molded treats.

An English table set in Service à la française, including molded treats.

Art in use

Mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and a beloved treat in 18th-century dining rooms,the classic dessert blancmange is a sweet, white gelatin. To make it, moisten two tablespoons of arrowroot with two tablespoons of cold milk and stir until smooth. Then, bring half of a pint of milk to boil and add the arrowroot paste. Stir for two to three minutes, then sweeten with two teaspoons of sugar and flavor with vanilla or almond extract. Pour into a mold to set.

Comments from the gallery

Question: “How would you use an object like this in your life?”
  • “To hold the blood of my enemies”
  • “To put pineapple chunks in”
  • “A dish to hold odds and ends”
  • “To make cupcakes”
  • “I could eat spaghetti out of the big one!”
  • “To make cute Jello for girlfriend (she is cute)”
  • “Pineapple press”
  • “Soap-bar holder”
  • “Putting peppermints in”
  • “Baking cupcakes”
  • “Make pineapple cake”
  • “To make elaborate sandcastles, of course!”
  • “Aspic mold”
Question: “What are the first three words that come to mind when you look at this object?”
  • “Cup – cake – pan”
  • “What – the – heck?”
  • “Oatmeal – jellyfish – ruff”
  • “White – kitchen – food”
  • “Boat – pineapple – white”
  • “Cook – beach – eat”
  • “Nom – nom – nom”
  • “Exquisite – masterpiece – lemon wedge”
  • “Cool – awesome – fun”


Recent Acquisitions

Cutting a Fine Figure

Lehman Jar

John Frederick Lehman (American, born Germany, 1825-1883), Jug, about 1870. Ash-glazed stoneware. Museum purchase 2013.19

The BMA recently acquired a rare figural vessel made by the Alabama potter John Frederick Lehman around 1870. The jug depicts an African-American man wearing a cap, hoop earrings, and a coat with broad lapels and buttons impressed with Lehman’s initials. A large buckle-like square probably surrounded a paper label for whatever product the jug contained. The Museum purchased the piece from a private individual who had discovered it in a Talladega County store nearly 45 years ago. Joey Brackner, Director of the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture and author of Alabama Folk Pottery (2006), commented on the significance of the piece: 

The acquisition of the John Lehman figural jug, one of only three in existence, is a testament to the commitment of the Birmingham Museum of Art to acquiring and presenting the art of the people of Alabama. Along with enslaved Edgefield potter Dave Drake, Lehman is the most well known of historical Southern potters. Lehman combined a variety of decorative techniques unusual for the Deep South with the distinctive alkaline glaze for which the region is known. He most likely came to the United States in the 1840s as a refugee of the revolutions in the German states. During his odyssey, he acquired considerable skills as a potter. Lehman’s longest tenure was in Rock Mills, Alabama, where he and his family lived and worked during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Before his death in 1883, Lehman created a series of decorated jars and jugs that have been the source of much excitement and varying interpretation.

With this most recent acquisition, the BMA now owns two of these important decorated pieces, and has secured a third as a promised gift. The collection also includes two undecorated pieces attributed to Lehman. The figural jug is now on view.

Hadrian’s Villa: The Remains of the so-called Pretorio, 1774, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720-1778), etching, Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Gift of Roy Curtis Green in memory of Walter Marshall Ellis, AFI202.2013

European Masters on Paper

The Museum recently received a very generous gift of nine works on paper and two books from Roy Curtis Green. The gift includes four prints by Giovanni Battista Piranesi from his famous Views of Rome, etched between 1747 and his

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Art Matters: New Gallery, New Ideas

Art Matters: New Gallery, New Ideas

Numerous technological changes have occurred since the 1990s, and the world of art conservation is no different! Over the years, art conservationists have kept up with innovative products and solutions, constantly adapting to keep collections safe and looking their best.

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Spotlight on the Collection

July 2014: Armor

Armor (Tōsei Gusoku), Muromachi period (1392-1573), about 1550. Saotome Iyetada (Japanese, active mid-16th century). Lacquer, wood, iron and silk. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Endowed Funds for Asian Art Acquisitions, the Birmingham Museum of Art Volunteer Council, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas N. Carruthers, Jr., Mrs. Gerda Carmichael, Mr. James D. Sokol, Mr. and Mrs. Victor Hanson II, and Dr. and Mrs. James Kamplain, 1997.137.1-.6.

Armor (Tōsei Gusoku), Muromachi period (1392-1573), about 1550. Saotome Iyetada (Japanese, active mid-16th century). Lacquer, wood, iron and silk. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Endowed Funds for Asian Art Acquisitions, the Birmingham Museum of Art Volunteer Council, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas N. Carruthers, Jr., Mrs. Gerda Carmichael, Mr. James D. Sokol, Mr. and Mrs. Victor Hanson II, and Dr. and Mrs. James Kamplain, 1997.137.1-.6.

Armor, Saotome Iyetada, about 1550

To a modern audience, suits of samurai armor may seem extravagant or even flamboyant; however, each element served a real purpose. Besides providing protection, high-status samurai warriors needed to be identified by their foot soldiers and to intimidate the enemy on the battlefield. At least four to six different artisans created suits like this one, working together in a manner not unlike an assembly line. The colors and patterning on armor identified a warrior’s rank; those on this suit link it to the daimyō (governor), so it belonged to a samurai of high status.

In the 16th century, changes in warfare and interactions with European – mainly Portuguese – traders produced helmets called kawari kabuto (“extraordinary” or “fancy”). Forms included simple animal shapes like rabbits and bears, dragons, and stylized horns like the ones on this helmet. An artist created these designs with materials such as papier-mâché or lightweight wood. For wealthier classes of samurai, helmets included more complicated designs, like Mount Fuji, to distinguish high-ranking military leaders on the battlefield. In large battles, it was essential to discern friend from foe quickly, so form often took precedence over maneuverability.

The ferocity of a soldier’s armor was meant to project an image of superhuman strength and fearlessness in the face of death. The samurai often fought in one-on-one duels; warriors proceeded from opponent to opponent until called off by their officer. When combined with kawari kabuto, face masks with pointed teeth or wiry moustaches created frightening adversaries in this type of combat.

Join the conversation!

Today, people use clothing, piercings, tattoos, and other outward signs to project certain aspects of their identity, to intimidate (like the samurai’s helmets), or simply to stand out in a crowd. How do you project your identity? What do you hope to express about yourself? How have these markers affected your relationships, perceptions, or self-image?

Check out these links, and join the conversation below!

“Mark My Words. Maybe.” New York Times, April 12, 2014

Object Lessons: Samurai Warrior Armor, Christie’s

Mobile Tours

Lethal Beauty smartguide feature

Samurai web featureThe Museum recently added 10 new stops to its smartguide in conjunction with the opening of Lethal Beauty: Samurai Weapons and Armor. The Lethal Beauty smartguide feature, available for FREE here, complements any visit to the exhibition and allows visitors to explore artworks and themes in-depth.

The Lethal Beauty smartguide feature includes:

  • An overview and welcome to the exhibition from Dr. Donald A. Wood, the Museum’s Senior Curator and Curator of Asian Art
  • Images and more information about individual artworks and groups of artworks in the exhibition
  • Audio commentary from specialists on Japanese art, history, and culture
  • Web links to related artworks and information
  • BMA-exclusive content, including “Samurai as Patrons of the Arts” and “Warrior Women of Japan”
  • A new Family Focus! tour, “Samurai Stories,” for adults and children to explore together

The Lethal Beauty smartguide feature, accessed for FREE here, is optimized for tablets, smartphones, and other web-enabled devices. Visitors without their own devices may check out an iPad for FREE from the Museum’s information desk, located on the 2nd floor in front of Oscar’s café; FREE WiFi is also available throughout the Museum. Headphones are also available in the Museum Store for visitors who would like to access audio and video content in the exhibition.

Using your web-enabled smart device, click here to get started.

"Sunset, Haywagon in the Distance" Martin Johnson Heade, United States. Oil on canvas. BMA collection 1977.192.

10 Artworks To Welcome Summertime

Summer is officially here, and what better way to celebrate than with art? These 10 images evoke many favorite summertime memories. Whether you spent summers at the beach or on the front porch with someone special, these pieces transport us to different places,

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Museum News

Art on the Rocks June 13 Events


Visit performances and activities throughout the entire museum and snap a photo to share on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter using both #ArtOnTheRocks and #Brombergs.

The more performances and art activities you visit, the more photos you can share, and the more chances you have to win a piece of beautiful Bromberg’s jewelry!

Winners will be chosen based on creativity of photos.



Expand your knowledge and appreciation of Japanese art as the BMA’s Senior Curator and Curator of Asian Art Don Wood gives a talk on traditional woodblock prints from the first half of the 20th century. Two extraordinary Japanese artists, Hasui Kawase (1883-1957) and Hiroshi Yoshida (1876-195), will be discussed during this gallery talk.


Presented by Shaia’s and Southern Femme
Over the centuries, samurai warriors cultivated a respect for elegance and aesthetics in their suits of armor. With their flash, color, and exceptional design, these warriors were unlike any other in the world. Channel the samurai warriors’ appreciation for the finer things, and learn the art of dressing like a dapper man! Stylists from Shaia’s Menswear in Homewood and Southern Femme will share the secrets to looking your best! For even more fun, step into the “Dapper Man” photo booth for a chance to win some generous giveaways from Shaia’s!


DANCEe, the modern-contemporary company, is celebrated abroad and treasured by Birmingham. Ross’ new dance for Art On The Rocks blends aesthetics: the digital and the sensual, the sustained and the vibratory, the glorious and the busted movement qualities. Come delight in, Trust, Rush, Receipts.


This Texas-based, 6-piece band features a layered texture of guitar, ukulele, accordion, bass, violin, banjo, various percussions, and chilling harmonies.


Junior Patron members can be found in a prime location, in a VIP tent right next to the band! Become a Junior Patron member to enjoy food and drinks, including Back Forty Beer Company’s exclusive beer, made just for Art On The Rocks! The special beer, Fuzzy Belly, is a blend of Frecklebelly IPA and the current seasonal, Paw Paw’s Peach Wheat.


DJ Coco has been moving dance floors all over the world for well over a decade. Having played in some of the hippest bars and clubs, from London to Miami, Barcelona to Ibiza, DJ Coco has been a regular fixture at many of the Southeast’s largest events. This summer he is celebrating the Art On The Rocks with a mix of Japanese pop culture music, setting the scene perfectly for all of our themed events.


Bring prosperity and good fortune to the city of Birmingham by participating in an art installation, created by you! In celebration of Japanese tradition and the 10th anniversary of Art On The Rocks, we will be making one thousand paper cranes, a practice that is believed to grant a wish to those who join in the fun. Make your crane, see it on display, and be a part of bringing good luck to Birmingham and the Museum!


Get ready for our summertime exhibition, Lethal Beauty! Jump into our Samurai armor photo booth, and share your photos on social media! #BMASamurai


A collaboration of Katie Thompson and Sam Porter with MAKEbhm
Step into our contemporary photo booth, a collaboration of MAKEBhm artists Katie Thompson and Sam Porter. Their inspirations were summer, cartoons, 3d and 2d mixing media, adult version of kid fun, and just having a good laugh with friends. Props provided by Zoe’s in Forest Park.


Freshwater Endless Pearl Necklace and 14 Karat Yellow Gold Freshwater Pearl Drop Earrings


Sponsored by H2 Real Estate, 3 bars downtown will help us host Nijikai. Nijikai (二次会) is Japanese for the after party, where friends join together to bar hop! Receive drink specials at The Collins Bar, Carrigan’s Public House, and Paramount after each event by showing your Art on the Rocks wristband.

Painting in the garden during Holi.

BMA Dads Are The Best!

At the Birmingham Museum of Art, we are lucky to welcome visitors from all over the world who come to see our exceptional collection of art. Among our visitors are many families, who come here to unwind, create, explore, and discover

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