Dishes, cutlery and stemware are all part of a “proper” meal today. As a young kid, I couldn’t care less if I was eating off of expensive china, everyday dishes or even paper plates. Suppertime was not important to me, since I was such a fussy eater and would much rather spend my time playing outside making forts. Growing up, I remember vividly my mother’s vintage marigold stoneware dishes that she bought at the grocery store back in the early 1970s. She used them every day for as long as I could remember, and they had a life of their own. Along with my mother’s everyday dishes she had one set that she kept on display behind glass that only she handled, only she washed, and only she hand-dried; these were deemed “the good dishes.” One day this legacy of formality was to be passed down to a daughter, and the social and cultural expectation of the Italian woman preparing and serving a meal to her family would continue. Unfortunately, this legacy never happened since my mother never had daughters and neither I nor my brother were interested in keeping this tradition or her “good dishes.”
Eating is a physical need, but meals are a social ritual. Whenever I heard, “I need to use the good dishes,” that meant one of two things in our household: the priest was coming over for dinner or it was a very special occasion. Either way, the food presentation, table dress and table manners all changed whenever the good dishes came out.
Utilizing the stylized rituals of formal tableware and drawing inspiration from classic still life paintings, The Good Dishes disassociates etiquette and formality from the societal expectation of domesticity by using food and fine china in unconventional ways as a metaphor for attainability and social stratification.