Spotlight on BGC Alumni: Shax Riegler

Shax Riegler (’07, PhD candidate) is the features editor at House Beautiful. He recently published DISH: 813 Colorful, Wonderful Dinner Plates (Artisan 2011), and is working to complete his PhD dissertation at the BGC.

You just published your first book! How did the project come about?
Before, during, and now after, my full-time studies at the BGC, I worked as an editor and writer at various magazines. I also collaborated with several other people on writing their books, and in 2007 I was hired to help a woman finish her book on organizing. She was a professional organizer and knew exactly what to do with a closet, but had lost control of her manuscript. Artisan, the publisher, was really happy with my work and the editor, who I've known for a long time, asked me if I had any ideas of my own. I thought it would be fun to do something taking a close, obsessive look at one particular object. Eventually we decided that the dinner plate in all its guises throughout history was the perfect candidate. “Great!” I thought. But then the real work of identifying and tracking down all the most appropriate plates began. We did original photography for most of the pieces featured in the book. You have no idea how much bubble wrap was involved.

How does your book relate to your studies at the BGC?
I entered the BGC with a passion for European porcelain, and an interest in other ceramics. Of course I wanted to know how such objects were made and how they came to look like they did, but I was also fascinated by the contexts in which people would have encountered them. Deborah Krohn's class "Markets to Manners," Andrew Morrall's course on European ceramics, Ken Ames's on English silver, and François Louis's on Chinese ceramics, as well as good, old Survey all provided wonderful perspectives on objects for the table and how they were used. Later on, I got to design and teach my own class on "The Art and Material Culture of Dining" to undergraduates at RISD.  Teaching really makes you think about how to synthesize material, so that your students get it. I was in the middle of teaching the RISD class for the second time when I came up with the idea that became DISH. I was so frustrated by the books available. There are lots of lifestyle-etiquette books about setting the table and lots of collector-oriented books about specific manufacturers (Wedgwood, Spode, etc.) or types of wares (Fiesta ware, Depression glass), but nowhere was the dinner plate looked at all by itself. And I just thought that would be a compelling subject.

Favorite dinner plate? 
After this process, how could I have one favorite? I live in a small New York City apartment, so I don't have the space to be a collector. About fifteen years ago, I found a full service for twelve of Noritake's "Bambina" pattern in a shop in Cold Spring, New York.  I thought it was elegant in a very mid-century modern kind of way. It wasn't very expensive and I fell in love with the idea of using it. So, I bought it... and it sits in my storage space to this day. So sad! In a way, the book let me satisfy my urge to collect by giving me the opportunity to form a virtual collection. But I must say that if I had an old house with one of those butler's pantries between the kitchen and the dining room, I would have fun filling the cupboards. 

What’s next for Shax Riegler?
Back to my dissertation! Which is an intellectual biography of the literary critic, art historian, and great collector Mario Praz. Nothing to do with plates or food.


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(2011 Artisan), photography by Robert Bean