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Smithsonian American Art Museum Acquires Irma Starr Commemorative Plate Celebrating Renwick's 30th Anniversary

Contact: Amy Mannarino
Media only: (202) 275-1592

The Smithsonian American Art Museum has acquired "The Renwick 30th Anniversary Plate," 2002, by Irma Starr. This ceramic plate, crafted using 17th-century English slipware pottery techniques, is a special piece presented to the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum through the generosity of patrons and supporters of Starr and is now hanging in the permanent collection galleries.

"We are thrilled that Irma Starr has created this spectacular plate to honor the Renwick's 30th anniversary," said Renwick Curator-in-Charge Kenneth R. Trapp. "Starr's commemorative piece depicting the Renwick Gallery building pays homage to the history of ceramics by the continuation of old slipware techniques used to depict a 19th-century landmark building in the heart of federal Washington, D.C."

The commemorative text on the piece reads, "1972 Renwick Gallery 2002/ Smithsonian American Art Museum," "Dedicated to Art," which appears on the building, and "30 years of collecting, exhibiting, preserving and studying American craft." Two roundels opposite each other on the rim of the plate contain the initials "WWC," for William Wilson Corcoran, who had built what is now the Renwick Gallery to showcase his collection of paintings and plaster cast sculptures, and "IKS," for the artist Irma Kushner Starr.

Starr approached Trapp in December 2000 when she was attending an event for artists invited to create holiday ornaments for The White House. They discussed the creation of a commemorative plate to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Renwick Gallery, which opened to the public in 1972. To begin her design, Starr visited the Renwick to photograph and sketch the Second-Empire style Victorian building designed by James Renwick Jr., architect of the Smithsonian's "Castle" and St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. Because of its size and the complexity of the design, three months were spent decorating the piece. It took six months to dry. Starr fired the red earthenware plate twice in June 2002; each firing took a week, followed by a week to cool. The glazing was done last, before the second, and final, firing.

The 30-inch plate is completely covered in slip, a thin wash of light clay over which the decorative designs are applied by a method called slip-trailing. Starr used the clay much like a painter applies pigments to a canvas. Slip-clay mixed with water and mineral oxides, added for color-is trailed on in thin lines to create the final design and intricate patterns. This process is similar to that of a pastry chef decorating an elaborate cake. The slip is thickly built up to emphasize column capitals, wrought-iron metalwork and other architectural details. The colors of the piece are cream, deep red, black, green and orange.

A resident of Kansas City, Mo., Starr began studying the techniques of 17th-century English slipware more than 30 years ago. She uses methods such as combing, feathering- and marbling in her pieces. She has worked extensively with The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art gift shop in Kansas City to reproduce art pieces from the Burnap Collection. Her reproductions include large dishes, posset pots, cradles, puzzle jugs and many other ceramic pieces.

"The Renwick 30th Anniversary Plate" is the gift of Jerry Lee Bray, Kathleen M. Derman, John L. Hoffman, Pamela Joseph, Lee R. Lyon, Norman and Elaine Polsky, and Miranda P., Adam C. and Lily R. Starr. A smaller 30th anniversary plate is the Gift of Joy Davidson.

The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is dedicated to exhibiting American crafts from the 19th to the 21st century. The Renwick is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W., near the Farragut North (Red line) and Farragut West (Blue and Orange lines) Metrorail stations. Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free. Public information: (202) 357-2700, (202) 786-2393 (TTY); (202) 633-9126 (Spanish). Recorded information: (202) 275-1500. Please visit the museum's award-winning Web site at