Archives for December 2011

The Talent Behind the Grueby Pottery Name

Most American art pottery companies, especially at the turn of the century and then again during the Great Depression were all too familiar with cultivating talent, only to lose that talent to the competition or because the talent was needed elsewhere – even if that “elsewhere” had little to do with the art pottery sector.

This week, we take a look at some of the best talent that at one time or another called Grueby Pottery their employer. We start with none other than William Henry Grueby.

Grueby hadn’t shown much of an infinity for tiles or other art pottery in his youth; instead, he had to find a job – any job – when he left school in 1882. That job would be a CA Wellington an Co., which specialized in decorative arts. Eight years later in 1890, Grueby and a friend he met while working at CA Wellington left to form their own company. That friend, of course, was Eugene Atwood and the company was aptly named Atwood and Grueby.

Eugene Atwood

Atwood remained with Atwood and Grueby until 1894. It was then he decided to strike out on his own. His company produced architectural faience and enameled bricks. Six years later, Atwood Faience found itself in reorganization and eventually new management took over. When that happened, it was renamed Hartford Faience.

There was also a third partner, though his name was never on the letterhead. William Hagerman Graves had graduated college more than a few times and continued to rack up degrees when he was approached to serve as treasure to Atwood & Grueby. As far as most historians believe, Graves had created a single piece of Grueby Art Pottery – a blue bowl that was inspired by Japanese influences. Eventually, he left the company and went to work for a tile company.

Karl Langenbeck

Langenbeck was a brilliant man who had received significant training in chemistry, which he put to use when he was approached in 1908 by Grueby Faience to work out “technical problems”. Langenbeck is one of those talents mentioned above – those who come and go. He’d already worked for Rookwood Pottery of Cincinnati in the role of a glaze expert in the late 1800s.

Finally, we take a look at one of those creative minds behind the Grueby name. Ruth Erickson created a beautiful fern handled vase. So unique was it that it was exhibited at the Newark Museum and then a year later, in 1911, the museum purchased it to have on permanent display. Erickson also was the talent behind several of the Grueby tobacco jars. If you have any, you might notice a marking of 1/21/01 – one not familiar with art pottery might wrongly assume the marking is indicative of 2001, which, of course, is not so. Most of those tobacco jars were made in 1901.

The talent and business minds who defined this art pottery company were many. Some were around for the long haul, while others made contributions and then moved on. Regardless, what we’re left with today is a versatile and beautiful line of American art pottery.

Rookwood Pottery’s Mississippi Connection

Rookwood Pottery is truly one of those American classics – not only in terms of art pottery, but in its totality as a business model. It survived the Great Depression when companies around the nation were folding. It’s undergone many changes in ownership, barely missed being sold to international buyers and through it all, the talent that is Rookwood Pottery continued to turn out some of those most beautiful collections the art pottery community has ever known.  What many people don’t know is that Rookwood Pottery temporarily relocated to Starkville, Mississippi in 1959. The ownership had just changed hands once again and even though the company had survived those difficult years in the 1930s, it struggled for many years after the Depression. The move to Mississippi was designed to put the company back at the top of its game. Unfortunately, it was unable to do so and as a result, folded (albeit temporarily) in 1967. At the time, no one knew for sure whether this American pottery company would be able to make a successful comeback.

Rookwood Pottery now calls Cincinnati home. It was purchased in the early 1980s by an in Ohio physician. Upon learning that Rookwood might be relocating to another country, Dr. Arthur Townley made his decision. He moved fast and indeed, invested all of his savings, in a bid to keep the company here in the U.S. This was in 1982. More recently, Rookwood Pottery was moved yet again to the Cincinnati area – on Race Street to be specific -and in 2006, Dr. Townley agreed to sell his assets, which included trademarks and even glaze recipes. This was surely a difficult decision for the dentist, but for the same reasons he purchased the company all those years ago, he believed it was the right thing to do.

Regardless of what ultimately happens with this company, there is no denying the indelible mark it left on the art pottery world as a whole and our society. Rookwood Pottery continues to increase in both its value and the number of those who are just beginning to see what many have known for decades.

Incorporate your Roseville Pottery into Holiday Celebrations

Too many times, we find ourselves scrambling to locate the ideal centerpiece for our family gatherings, especially those special Christmas dinners that we want to ensure are absolutely perfect. As we run from florist to florist or department store to department store, we often overlook the beauty that’s already in our homes, courtesy of our American art pottery collections.

If you’re a Roseville Pottery fan, you already know how versatile your collection is and while there’s not definitive Roseville collection designed especially for Christmas, there are choices within the various collections that can really set the tone for your holidays.  The best part is that you don’t necessarily need a traditional red and green Christmas theme (although there are a few choices that match those color themes). A beautiful Roseville vase with hues of winter white or evergreen works well with silk Chrysanthemums or other holiday floral choices.

As mentioned, there are a few Roseville Pottery pieces that do have a more traditional Christmas theme. The Roseville Creamware collection offers holly-inspired designs. There’s a unique side-pour pitcher with vivid reds and greens against an off-white base. This would make a remarkable centerpiece with the right floral arrangement. Allow the colors to play off each other and you’re sure to have a finished look that’s nothing short of inspirational. Also in this line is a fern dish. This is another beautiful choice, partly because of its footed design. It adds a bit of height, too, which is what most of us like in our centerpieces. If you don’t already own any of these pieces, keep your eyes open – you never know when you’ll come across this particular Roseville design and once you do, it’s sure to be a new addition to your collection.

Another unlikely, though elegant choice for Christmas is found in the Roseville Corinthian line. Granted, it’s probably not the first thing you think of, but the deep green hues in the grooves of the pieces has a certain holiday feel. There are small berries, similar to holly, that coordinate nicely, too. It’s Italian inspired, so you know it’s all about the detailing and this Roseville line doesn’t disappoint.

If you’re not in possession of any of these pieces, remember Roseville Pottery has several lines that incorporate rich reds and brilliant greens. Even those Roseville pieces that don’t have a lot of height can be transformed into the perfect showcase for a bouquet of fresh mistletoe and of course, the other traditional Christmas flowers.

Remember, it’s all about the creativity. The subtle – and even not-so-subtle – Roseville designs makes it easy to allow that creativity to take over.

The Unusual Faces in American Art Pottery

Most of us think beautiful florals, dramatic etching efforts and stunning glazes when discussing American art pottery. But this art form isn’t without its unusual pieces.

The Faces in Art Pottery

Art pottery is defined by numerous companies and artists, each of whom brought their own unique take on this line of art. Many artists mastered the beauty of detailed florals, others were experts in glaze lines and shapes. There were those rebels, however, that brought to the table anything but a “flowery” finished look. Many think of George Ohr whenever “rebel” and “art pottery” are used in the same sentence. But there were other streaks of eclectic lines that dot the landscape. Think faces and busts. They’re all quite dramatic and always the conversation piece of any collection.

Weller Dickens Ware, 2nd Line

It’s difficult to find the right adjectives to describe many of the pieces in this line of Weller Pottery. Unusual, exciting and some might say a bit disturbing; not that “disturbing” is used in an insulting manner, it’s just that the tobacco jars that take the shape of very detailed men’s faces can be a bit offsetting.

“The Skull”, as one of the Weller Pottery tobacco jars is called, has no eyes, though appears to be smiling. It can be a bit of a jolt. It’s believed there are three in existence and their value goes up considerably if you come across one with a finial that is a miniature skull. Another interesting face or bust is found in “The Turk”. The detail is very life-like with a permanent snarl on the fellow’s face, deep-set eyes and flared nose. The dark gloss adds to the dramatic presentation.

Also in this line you’ll find “The Irishman”. Most likely, there exists an “R.D.” as the signature. This guy has an upturned nose, heavy eyelids, lines around his mouth and thick eyebrows. Let’s just say he’d make a fine addition to your Halloween décor – as long as you keep him in a safe place as his value is considerable.

This is just one line of many that include very detailed faces. It speaks volumes of the talent these artists possessed and talent that they were willing to pour into their creations, unlike many of the manufactured pieces we see in a more contemporary society. To know the history of these Weller pottery pieces is to love them.

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Van Briggle: Hues of Green and Blue

Each art pottery line includes a “favorite” of any collector. There’s no shortage of Van Briggle fans who appreciate the magical hues, especially the blues and greens, found in many of this pottery company’s lines.

Van Briggle Color Plates

Those who have mastered the glaze colors, especially in the Van Briggle collections, certainly know the distinctions behind every single one of those glazes. These glaze colors not only identify the various pieces, but also gives some clue as to any piece’s value. This is especially important in those pieces where the markings no longer exist and therefore can’t tell the history of a piece.
Many Van Briggle Pottery pieces are labeled in groups: “Plate 174” or “Plate 183”. Within these groups are the pieces. The blues and greens are striking- and that’s an understatement!

Plate 187 and Plate 184

I’ve paired these two because of the very distinct differences. Within Plate 184, you’ll discover very light hues of blue or green (some say blue, others insist they’re very light variations of green). The pieces were made in the early 1900s, around 1905-1906. They’re most often marked with “VB” for Van Briggle, along with “stp” for “stamped”.
The Plate 187 collection has much darker shades of blue. When you put any of the pieces of the two collections together, it’s almost magical. It truly is a remarkable contrast. These pieces will have similar markings, including the “VB” and “stp”. The one difference might be these pieces will have “CS” for Colorado Springs.

Plate 203

This collection of vases have a nice combination of various shads of blues and greens. The vases will often have several shades that begin in a really light blue around the neck of the vase and get darker closer to the base or vice versa. They will often incorporate the “VB”, the number associated with the vase and the “stp”.

Plate 207

I wanted to include this collection because of a specific bowl. If you’ll notice in the photo, the
outside of the bowl is a nice almost “sea foam” green while the bowl itself is a pretty sky blue. They contrast beautifully and the absence of any etchings or other decorative elements lends to its character. It’s the simplicity that defines it.
These are just a few of the many Van Briggle pottery pieces you’ll discover in the hlue and green glaze lines. If you’re a Van Briggle collector, you surely know how remarkable the presentations are. If you’re new to Van Briggle, you’re in for a treat as you discover those hues. A good place to start your research efforts is by exploring the very detailed information in the Collector’s Encyclopedia of Van Briggle Art Pottery: An Identification and Value Guide. It’s chock full of information on everything you need to know about this revered line of American art pottery.