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.

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