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John Bauer: Celebrating the Everyday in Ceramics and Beyond

John Bauer, a prominent South African ceramicist, inventor, and material engineer, has made significant contributions to the world of art and design. His work is featured in two of South Africa’s national museums: the Cultural History Museum of Cape Town and the William Humphreys Museum. Remarkably, these institutions acquired his work before he turned 30, highlighting his early impact on the art world.

A Passion for the People’s Museums

Bauer’s approach to art and culture extends beyond traditional boundaries. He is passionate about what he calls “The People’s Museums.” His vision is rooted in the idea that well-crafted objects from our everyday lives deserve recognition and celebration, much like the grand artifacts displayed in museums around the world.

“When I go to museums and stand before the throne of the Queen of Sheba or King Tutankhamun, I am in awe,” Bauer reflects. “But I think, as a society and culture, it is also important for us to celebrate well-crafted objects in our everyday daily lives.”

He illustrates this idea with personal anecdotes, like his delight in a rough-hewn eagle cork-screw made from a hippopotamus’s tusk—an object that might never find a place in a museum but brings him immense joy. Similarly, he points out how common objects like the 5-Rand coin, which people handle daily, often go unnoticed in their details and craftsmanship.

The Vision of the People’s Museum

Bauer’s concept of the People’s Museum is about preserving and celebrating the paraphernalia of everyday life. It involves finding and curating objects that resonate with personal and cultural histories, even if they seem insignificant at first glance.

“The People’s Museum is about celebrating objects and paraphernalia of people, condensing down an essence of everything from our life,” Bauer explains. He envisions trawling thrift stores and junk shops for items that speak to the heart, such as a small plastic reproduction of the Nesquik bunny from childhood, a plastic toy from a bag of sherbet, or a Jaipur jewelry box resembling a pirate treasure chest.

These objects, often forgotten and discarded, are brought back to life in Bauer’s tiled facades, which become decentralized museums. Each tile captures an artifact and celebrates the small wonders of everyday life.

Impact and Future Aspirations

Bauer’s passion project aims to create a tourism route around Cape Town, similar to the Gaudi buildings in Barcelona or the Hundertwasser buildings in Austria. He envisions a vibrant, prosperous future where these pieces of everyday art foster tourism and create jobs.

“Imagine all the jobs that would be created and all the prosperity that will surround these pieces,” Bauer envisions. “For me, it is so important to gear my talent and art to have the maximum possible positive impact for others.”

Through his work and his vision for the People’s Museums, John Bauer is not only preserving the past but also enriching the present. His approach encourages us to find beauty and significance in the everyday objects that surround us, reminding us that art is not just found in grand museums but also in the details of our daily lives.

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