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SOFA plates up pieces from new Dinnerware Museum

BW Moulded Plastics (PasadenCaliforni20th century). Jack Jill Chow Chow Feeding Traca. 1950s. tracar dish smokestack cup conductor engineer spofork.

BW Moulded Plastics (Pasadena, California, 20th century). Jack and Jill Chow Chow Feeding Train, ca. 1950s. train car dish, smokestack cup, conductor and engineer spoon and fork. BW Flexware plastic. Dinnerware Museum, Promised Gift of Margaret Carney and Bill Walker. Photograph courtesy of Bill Walker

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SOFA, through Nov. 3 (Oct 31 is opening night preview, $50), Navy Pier’s Festival Hall, 600 E. Grand. $15. Visit

Keeping an individualistic spirit alive in dinnerware design
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Updated: October 30, 2013 8:25PM

When you dine at the home of a dinnerware collector you are certain to get a piece of someone’s mind.

My Tiki-influenced Matson Lines dinner plate (early 1950s designed by Eugene Savage of tropical Covington, Ind.) and Ramada Inn soup bowls get me through any lull in conversation. I have one plate in my collection that depicts the correct grips of a curve ball, a slider and a spit ball.

Is there any better candlelight dinner chat than the beauty of the spit ball? Besides baseball plates, I collect old hotel dishware and I love my 1960s airline silverware (I bought all of it).

“Whetting Your Appetite” is a unique exhibit that features 46 pieces from the four-month old Dinnerware Museum in Ann Arbor, Mich. The exhibit is up Oct. 31-Nov. 3 at the 20th annual SOFA (Sculpture, Objects, Functional Art and Design) Chicago at Navy Pier’s Festival Hall. The museum is curated by Ann-Arbor based ceramics historian Dr. Margaret Carney.

Carney has a lot on her plate.

“We don’t just collect Grandma’s dishes, which we do collect,” she said. “We collect good design from famous industrial designers and work from contemporary artists. We collect fine art that’s 2-D and 3-D sculpture that references dining and dinnerware. The museum is based on memories. Every person gets excited when I talk about dinnerware because they have the food memories and in some cases they still have the dishes.”

Carney has a personal collection of more than 1,000 pieces of plastic, metal, glass, wood and paper dinnerware. The collection spans from Chinese Song Dynasty bowls (960-1279) to present time. (The SOFA exhibit includes a Power Point presentation that will show additional pieces of the museum collection and wish list stuff.)

Carney loves kitsch, so be on the lookout for a plastic children’s Chow-Chow Feeding Train from the 1940s.

“I bought that in San Diego in the original box,” Carney said. “I love it. The spoon and the fork are the conductor and engineer. The cup comes out so the child can use the smokestack on the train.”

A similar ideology from Ann-Arbor based Constructive Eating will be available in a drawing to raise funds for the museum. The small company blends fun with function.

“They make these charming plates where there’s fork lifts that lift your peas for males,” Carney said. “It’s a little sexist because they later came out with a gardening one. I’m bringing the male part. But like Chow Chow they want food to be fun and it’s a good design.”

The SOFA exhibit will include a swirling Roy Lichtenstein pop art design in a 1966 place setting from the Jackson China Company, Falls Creek, Penn., and primitive frontier dinnerware (circa 1955) designed by late jazz saxophonist Viktor Schreckengost who died in 2008 at age 101.

“In the last year we’ve got impressive donations from artists, collectors and relatives of famous designers,” Carney said. “We don’t have a physical exhibition space in Ann Arbor, although people do visit the office (by appointment in a home near the Ann Arbor Historical Museum.) We anticipate a building someday that would incorporate dinnerware in an amusing manner. We’re serious in that I would like it to be a scholarly museum. I have a PhD in Chinese ceramics.”

“It all fits in,” Carney said. “There’s almost nothing I’ve rejected. I don’t want things that are stolen. There was an article in the New Yorker about a Waldorf Astoria amnesty program. It was for anyone who wanted to send back [items] they had stolen from the Waldorf Astoria. They even stole Herbert Hoover’s picture. He used to live in the Waldorf Astoria. [The amnesty] included those little creamers. And if you go to eBay there’s a hundred different things you can get from the Waldorf Astoria. I won’t accept those.”

For more on the future of dinnerware collecting,

Twitter: @cstdhoekstra

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