St. Peter with angels eating watermelon

Mildred Walquist

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 774

Relatively little is known of the ceramic artist Mildred Walquist. She was among those ceramists who trained at the Cleveland School and produced sculptural work. Her figure of St. Peter depicts the saint, unusually, as an African American type. She also includes three Black angels in the foreground, disturbingly eating watermelon—a common racist stereotype at the time. Walquist’s sculpture is closely allied with the Cleveland School, especially the work of Viktor Schreckengost. He, too, liked to stage biblical and mythological stories with Black figures, as in a work in The Met’s collection, Shadrach, Meshach, Abendego—the story from the Book of Daniel of three Israelites who braved the fiery furnace of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar rather than bow to an idol. This association of African Americans with religious subjects was common to the period, perhaps partially inspired by the popularity of Black spirituals. As the intricacy of detail suggests in Walquist’s work, the sculpture was hand-modelled, not cast. Like many artists, she took on a teaching position to supplement her income, ultimately leaving ceramic sculpture for jewelry-making.

St. Peter with angels eating watermelon, Mildred Walquist, Earthenware, American

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