We always had cats when I was growing up, including these two cunning ceramic cats. I didn’t know anything about them, just that I liked them. Their shapes were simple, their poses very catlike—one sitting majestically and the other curled into a cozy ball—and they had such charming faces. Over the years they survived not only our family’s moves but also the busy hands of curious children, including mine.
Several years ago, while I was exploring Tokyo’s Daikanyama neighborhood with a friend, we wandered into Cow Books and behind the counter I spied a ceramic cat just like the ones I’d grown up with. I asked the owner about it and he told me it was the work of Lisa Larson, a ceramic artist who worked for many years for Gustavsberg, the renowned Swedish pottery company. As soon as I got home, I called my mother to tell her about the cat I’d seen in Japan. Sure enough, on the bottom of one of the original cats, my mother found a faded sticker marked “Gustavsberg Sweden.” Always a cat lover, she remembers being drawn to the ceramic cats when she saw them at Gump’s in San Francisco in the late 1950s. But she had never known who designed them.
We were both curious to know more about Lisa Larson, so I did a little research and found that Larson, who was born in 1931, was still living in Sweden and making ceramic figures. She worked for Gustavsberg from 1954 to 1980 and over the years her ceramics have become highly collectible. I learned that my family’s ceramic cats were part of the collection Lilla Zoo (“Little Zoo” in Swedish), which also includes a third cat, a fox, a dachshund, and a horse. Designed in 1955, it was the first of her collections to be put into production and features the generous shapes, humorous, friendly figures, and artfully drawn incised decoration for which she is known.
My mother has since given me the ceramic cats and they are now proudly displayed on my bookshelf. This past Christmas when she asked me for gift suggestions, I thought about Lisa Larson and the third cat from Lilla Zoo. Serendipity, and some online sleuthing, turned up the missing cat at an antiques shop near Philadelphia. It now sits, or rather stands, next to the original Larson cats from my childhood. Every now and then I like to pick them up and admire their simple rustic shapes, the cool smooth glaze of their faces, and how well they fit in the palm of my hand. I’m happy that now there are three.
Brooke Hodge is a writer and director of exhibitions and publications at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.