Saturday, March 12, 2011

American Art Potteries


The age of the American Art Potteries flourished at a time when not only was our country experiencing a surge in manufacturing, but also an ecliptic escalation in artistic creativity. The flowery, yet somewhat decadent motifs of European Art Nouveau brought about a diverse amalgamation into the sleek clean lines of Modernism and Art Deco.
The American Art Potteries acclaimed worldwide attention to ceramic wares that were being produced in our country. Suddenly, individual artists were becoming as well known as the industriously producing potteries. In the latter part of the 19th century, men would throw master vessels and molds would be created for mass production of their work. Then, women were hired as decorators, painting artistic masterpieces on the ceramic forms. These art potteries gained notoriety primarily for their decorators.

Rookwood Vase

There was also a high interest in china painting by the ladies who wanted something to divert their art pursuits from watercoloures and still remain categorized as "ladies."  I learned early in my childhood that the cleaning lady was not a proper use of the term "lady".  My mother, born in 1917, must have learned that from her grandmother, who raised her.  However, when I was supporting my son and myself in art school, (in the 1980s) I gladly was a cleaning lady!

Rookwood Vase
Being a decorator was one of the few areas of employment that was considered respectable for a woman in the male dominated American clay industry. Many women became decorators just to be able to have a chance to work outside the home. Rookwood Pottery developed into one of the finest art potteries in the world that employed mostly women.

An interesting and successful American Art Pottery was the extraordinary Arequipa Sanatorium, which functioned from 1911-1918. This unique pottery functioned predominately  by the work of female tuberculosis patients.

After the 1906 earthquake and fires of San Francisco, the dust and ash filled air created a tuberculosis epidemic. Dr. Philip King Brown founded the Arequipa Sanatorium as a country retreat for women to recuperate from tuberculosis.

Besides bed rest, handcrafting pottery was seen as a therapeutic activity that provided work for these women, thus diminishing the stigma of charity. This philosophy complemented the bourgeoning ideals of the Arts and Crafts Movement in America. This movement, which originated in England, supported the production of hand made objects over those mass-produced by industry. 

By the late 1850’s there were a great many art potteries; the work became very decorative rather than utilitarian and ultimately became a leading collectible. The Art Potteries became the foundation for women’s re-emergence into the ceramic scene. Several women were able to evolve beyond solely being decorators; they began producing the ceramic forms as well as decorating them. These women became the earliest studio potters.  (source, Jayne Shatz)
Unfortunately for those of us interested in following an artist's style, there are seldom any names designated for the Art Pottery decorators on their wares.  Some of these potters have been identified in museums by consistent styles however.  The Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC has a good collection of these wares.

Rookwood Pottery

We have already looked at Adelaide Alsop Robineau, who became much more than a "decorator" and advanced clay art immensely.  Soon I'll share some pictures and details about several other women clay artists from the early 20th century.

Arequipa ware, 1911-1918

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