Roseville Della Robbia: Unlike Anything Else

The Roseville Pottery Della Robbia line was described as “unlike anything else” in the 1906 Roseville catalog. The textures and sgrafitto decorative inclusions define this beautiful line.

The Roseville Della Robbia really stood out the moment it was introduced around the turn of the century. The textures, courtesy of hand incised designs placed on the shapes, which had been slip cast at least two times, set it apart from all other Roseville offerings. Frederick Hurten Rhead described the process involved with this very detailed group:

I had produced some interesting sgrafitto process decorations…the problem involved casting in two colored slips with an incised and carved design…it demanded extreme care and neatness… and the ware had to be handled very tenderly.

Rhead’s biggest problem was ensuring his beloved Della Robbia line wouldn’t be too expensive to mass produce, especially considering the Roseville Pottery decorators “were highly paid as wages go in the art potteries”. Before long, Rhead figured out a way to outsource the work – and this was long before “outsourcing” became a modern catchphrase. Instead of the high wages to the decorators, he instead brought in high school girls who showed promise in their art classes. After extensive training, Rhead was confident these young girls had mastered the process. “I had a working force of ten girls…at the end of two months could execute any of the illustrated pieces”.

Of course, what we’re left with is the beautiful hand decorated Roseville Della Robbia, complete with its textures and dimensions – all because one artist’s determination to bring it to the public. One final note regarding the art pottery line’s history: many of the high school girls who worked on these pieces were hired immediately following their high school graduation.

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