Archives for March 2013

Pillin Pottery

Polia Pillin began her studies of ceramics in Chicago, at the Hull House, after she’d established herself as a talented painter years earlier. By the late 1940s, the artist and her husband, also an artist in his own right, set up shop in Los Angeles. It began, as many great things often do, in their garage. Make no mistake – these two were a pair and one simply could not create without the presence and efforts of the other. William was the one who appreciated unexpected finds in glazes while Polia saw what every piece should look like in her mind’s eye. Unlike other potters, whose markings vary over the years, Pillin art pottery pieces are marked with a stylized Pillin signature.

Pillin Pottery may not be as mainstream as its other artistic counterparts, but there is an elegance and sophistication found in this Polish artist’s works. Polia and William Pillin worked as a team from the moment they founded their pottery studio in 1948. While William shaped the various pots, vases and other designs, Polia hand painted each one. It doesn’t take long to realize her favorite subjects included living things – dancers, birds, fish, horses and other “women of interesting allure”.

She was inspired by Picasso. And, much like Picasso, whatever vessel was presented to her by her husband, she allowed that to define what the project would ultimately become. An odd-shaped plate or tile worked nicely as a canvas to paint an upright woman with long flowing hair with a blackbird perched on her knee. A full vase was ideal for a plump fish and the more contemporary vases that were tall and narrow were just right for her to explore shapes, lines and color combinations.

It comes as little surprise then that many experts cite the artistry, more so than the shapes, as most interesting. There’s a subdued mystery that seems to be crafted into these works of art. Part of that could be because these art potters aren’t mainstream and frankly, we don’t know as much about these artists as we do those associated with the Roseville Pottery or Weller Pottery names. Either way, though, there’s no denying the markings and when you come across one, you know you have discovered a jewel. It’s believed much of these Pillin Pottery works remain undiscovered.

The Blues and Greens of Rookwood Pottery

For Rookwood Potterylovers, there are as many reasons to cherish this line of American art pottery as there are fans. Many cite the exquisite glazes the artists incorporated while others appreciate the versatility. For many of us though, it’s the extraordinary color combinations. The blues and greens provide the perfect example of the creativity and in some cases, the risks taken that paid off in spades.

While many of us can cite the lovely hues and combinations, it’s difficult to explain past that. It’s just the total package that makes this such a wonderful line to collect and display in our homes.

Take the Rookwood Pottery 1920 Cherub Pedestal Bowl. This bowl, though not a deep one, rests easily atop a pedestal of cherubs. The base has the typical beveling and straight line/curving combination we often see in this line and the two blue glazes are simply perfect together. The lighter blue/green defines the bowl and is complemented with the darker blue base and bowl bottom. It’s detailed and timeless. It stands at 10 1/2 inches in height and nearly as wide at 9 1/2 inches.

And the greens! Those lovely, mellow greens. What’s really nice about Rookwood is it’s easily found in a high gloss finish as well as a more matted appearance. Two perfect examples are found in the Rookwood Colonial Figurine and the 1925 McDonald Vase. The former has a glossy finish, which is a nice touch considering the way it appears in the creases of the gown as slightly darker. Note that darker “hemline” along the bottom of her gown as well. The artist provided a really unique portrayal as the woman is slightly bent, arms arced back and her head drawn down – it surely adds to the dramatic presentation.

In contrast, we get a look at the matte finish via the Rookwood 1925 vase. Not as high as you might usually find in a vase, the wider vase opening flares down to the base and the inside of the vase is varied slightly, likely for contrasting purposes. Pretty artwork draws the eye down and the absence of gloss allows the eye to hone in on the artistic detailing. Both are beautiful pieces though neither have anything in common other than the Rookwood Pottery name.

And therein lies the true fascination of this company – it maintained its ability to provide beautiful American art pottery to a wide range of folks who might have been drawn to it for any number of reasons.

Rookwood Pottery Gray Tinting

Fans of Rookwood Pottery likely have several pieces that have a unique tinting that is unlike any other American art pottery. The gray tinting found on some Rookwood Pottery shapes was incorporated from around 1915 through 1932. There’s been some debate about whether or not it was actually used before 1920, though in recent years, it’s not been questioned as much by modern collectors. Either way, it is a superb decision to opt for the semi translucent and glossy finish. The hazy appearance in many pieces is due to what’s described as a “thicker glaze pool”.

The markings are often indicated with a “D.G.” incision, which stands for “dark gray” and there are some pieces that are simply marked with the word “gray”.

It’s also interesting to note that this glaze was used in Starkville, Mississippi, where much of the commercial ware was made.

Remember, Rookwood Pottery also brought the exceptional yellow tinted glaze. It is stunning, especially on one of the Rookwood vases from 1923. The lovely yellow serves as a striking background to the dainty red flowers and green vines. At the opening of the vase, there’s a deep bluish-gray that extends into the vase itself. Meanwhile, the bottom is a perfectly coordinated green. If the crisp colors within the yellow glaze pieces are cheerful, then the gray tinting pieces are more dramatic, even if many of them have floral patterns.

If you’re a collector of these particular Rookwood Pottery lines, odds are, you’ll find these pieces with either painted artist initials or incisions with the initials. As with many companies in the 1930s, the Great Depression would soon serve as a devastating inhibitor for all things artistic. In fact, the pottery produced during the depression was strictly for utilitarian purposes versus decorative ones.

Needless to say if you run across anything with the dramatic gray tinting, you’ve indeed found a spectacular item that’s worthy of any collection.

For a company with a rich history dating back to the late 1880s, many collectors treat their efforts as investments and with Rookwood Pottery, it’s a sure thing. The company ceased production in 1967.

Roseville Pottery Ivory Line

It’s always a risk for any company – be it a clothing designer or an artist – to present a solid white line. When it’s good, it quickly becomes an elegant and simple testament to whatever it is being offered and when Roseville Pottery introduced its Ivory line in 1932, it was possibly one of the biggest gambles the company ever made from an artistic approach. The Roseville Lustre had been released ten years earlier and it was incredibly successful, partly because of the vibrancy in the colors and glaze as well as its white clay body. A few years later, in 1928, the Roseville Normandy was released. It too is known for its intricate designs and colors – mostly green as its foundation. To then present an entire collection of matte white art pottery was a bold move. But it certainly paid off.

In the catalog and in many of the ads, it was described as a collection with an “utter absence of color”. That absence of color, however, bode well with this particular collection since the shapes and other design elements were so fluid and thoughtfully designed. There were lovely window boxes that had easy vining efforts and gentle curving features and several dual-handle vases that boasted simplicity without looking plain. In a 1939 catalog – it was still a popular line then – the company reiterated its efforts of “lend(ing) dignity and beauty…and it will harmonize with all colors”. Indeed it did.

Another selling point the company used was its affordability, stating, “the pieces retail from 50 cents to $10, so that whether you are in the low or high price market, you can find your level”. Because it was such a huge success, each season new shapes were added. In fact, new shapes were designed that were used only in the Ivory line.

Ultimately, by the time the Ivory line was retired, it had been made available in 183 shapes. Several bowls in various sizes, vases, pillow vases, bud vases, sand jars and candlesticks were just a few of the shapes. The fact that it was a simple white matte frankly added a certain sophistication and one that people were drawn to. It was a nice change of pace and despite the risky choice of following such a line as Roseville Normandy, there’s no denying that whoever made that decision had hit a home run. The Roseville Ivory line remains as popular and collectible today as it was in the 1930s.