Greenpoint has produced many fine artists and artisans, but few achieved the renown of Edward Lycett, who is considered “the pioneer of China painting in America.” He worked at a celebrated Greenpoint ceramics firm called The Faience Manufacturing Company, which was located on the corner of Greenpoint and West Street in a building that now houses Red Star. Faience earned acclaim for producing ornamental pieces that created a new standard of excellence in American ceramics.
Lycett’s porcelain creations were so beautiful that in 2013 The Brooklyn Museum ran a show of his extraordinary pieces, Aesthetic Ambitions: Edward Lycett and Brooklyn’s Faience Manufacturing Company. His painted China achieved such renown that President Andrew Johnson commissioned a china set from him. Tiffany eagerly bought his creations and collectors still rate his creations among the finest examples of American hand-painted China ever made. His work is on permanent display in the American Wing of The Metropolitan Museum. Lycett specialized in bulbous vases and ewers with Moorish filigree lids, dolphin handles, gilded spider-web textures and Japanese chrysanthemum motifs. Newspapers described his work as a “triumph in the line of Faience” that “astonished art circles.”
He arrived here in 1861 from Staffordshire England because Greenpoint was the porcelain capital of the United States. Staffordshire had a long and famous history of producing ceramics and Lycett was raised in that tradition. He apprenticed as a china painter at age twelve for the firm Copeland and Garrett in Stoke-upon-Trent, England’s capital of pottery. In 1852, he moved to London to work with Thomas Battam Sr.’s centuries-old china decorating establishment. Decorating china required artistic talent as well as technical skill and Lycett beautifully painted highly finished classical figures, birds, fish, flowers, and landscapes with a deft hand few possessed.
In 1884 Lycett became the art director of the Faience Manufacturing Company. Lycett ceased the less challenging task of decorating porcelain blanks to order and began the more demanding job of experimenting with clay bodies and glazes as well as designing exotic ceramic shapes. Within two years of his arrival at Faience, Lycett had transformed the firm into a leader in ornamental ceramics. The firm began to produce a wide range of refined ceramic bodies, and Lycett’s daring and visionary designs drew upon the finest English and European wares, as well as from venerated ancient, medieval, and Renaissance objects in major museums. The bold shapes and amazing ceramic painting Lycett created set it above more mundane ceramics firms and set a standard that has stood the test of time.
At one time there were a dozen potteries in Greenpoint, but most learned the hard financial truth that it was difficult to stay in business just creating beautiful porcelain. In the last 1880’s Faience folded and Lycett left Brooklyn, but his legacy endures today.