Take a Seat

By Louise Irvine

Majolica garden seats were a passion for the late Joan Stacke Graham, co-author of the first major reference book on Victorian Majolica wares. Her Manhattan apartment was a mecca for fellow enthusiasts and her encyclopedic collection was featured in many antiques and design magazines. Joan’s “garden seat wall” was legendary in collecting circles and her menagerie of Majolica garden ornaments was memorable to visitors.

I got to know Joan Stacke Graham (1934-2020) at a Majolica International Society conference and was invited to visit her New York home. I was blown away by the scope of her collection which was exquisitely displayed in her apartment. She had been collecting Majolica since the 1980s and lived among her treasures. Everywhere you turned there were remarkable museum quality pieces. I had never seen one of the rare Delphin Massier butterfly jardinieres which had alighted on her coffee table beside a giant grasshopper. Both pieces made record prices at the first Doyle’s auction of Joan’s collection in December 2021. Part II of the auction will take place on Tuesday, April 4.

Joan’s knowledge of the history of Majolica wares was exceptional and she wrote and lectured widely on the subject. She reveled in stories about her pieces and shared lots of information about the manufacturers represented in Arthur Wiener’s collection. Some key museum pieces were echoed on her shelves such as the monumental Minton stork flower holder by John Henk. I gazed in envy at the Minton fawn which was modeled from life by the French artist Paul Comolera. The Duke of Sutherland loaned the baby deer from his estate at Trentham Hall and it briefly joined all the birds, fish and reptiles in residence at the artist’s studio.

I admired the ingenuity of Joan’s Majolica plate tree which bloomed in a corner of her living room. I had never seen so many garden seats and jardinieres together in one collection and her displays remain an inspiration for the Victorian Majolica garden that we are planning for our Hollywood location.

Joan visited us at WMODA in 2017 and was very complimentary about the museum exhibitions. Shortly after her visit, Joan donated the Spitting Image caricatures of Maggie Thatcher as a teapot and Ronald Reagan as a coffee pot. The satirical duo raised smiles in the Art of Tea exhibition and will do so again at our new location.

Joan was a very generous collector and loaned many of her pieces to the Majolica Mania exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center and The Walters Art Gallery. She was lovingly known as a Majolica Maniac by her friends and family and she is greatly missed in the Majolica society where she was a founding member and past president. In the words of the amusing pillow on her sofa: “The best antiques are old friends.”

Don’t miss the exhibition prior to the auction at Doyle’s in New York showcasing Joan’s collection from April 1-3.

Read more about the upcoming auction and exhibition

Read more about the Spitting Image Caricatures

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Victorian Majolica at WMODA
Majolica in the Movies
Palaces of Glass