Rookwood vase, brown high glaze, Native American, by Matt Daly, 1900, 20 inches high, $12,000. Photo courtesy of Treadway Gallery
At the turn-of-the-century, American art pottery was sometimes referred to as the “Devil’s art.” It seems comical now, but Victorian purists were dead serious.
During the era, the pious flocked to prayer meetings and revivals and even condemned laughter on Sundays. In this edgy climate, American art pottery came into being.
How things show up in our culture has always been the hook for me in writing about old things. Despite all odds, the creative spirit keeps creating. No matter the roadblocks. No matter the social climate.
American art pottery is a good example of this creative spirit. It came about because of two women, Mary Louise McLaughlin and Maria Longworth Nichols Storer.
Like many proper ladies of the era, they did their share of china painting. McLaughlin was part of a committee to select china-painted wares for the Women’s Pavilion at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition. Her group was accused of lapses in taste, but it was one of the earliest attempts to show ceramics as an independent art medium.
Afterwards, women began to shift their attention from china painting and knitting afghans to working in wet clay.
“Some fearful and wonderful things were produced,” McLaughlin said.
In 1880, Storer was unhappy with the temperatures of the local kiln. So she built her own and established one of the first and maybe the most important of the major art pottery companies, Rookwood Pottery, in an old schoolhouse in Cincinnati.
The company was named after her family’s Walnut Hills estate. Their early work was described as wildly experimental.
Storer’s workers, mostly female, dabbled heavily in gilding, carving and incising. The company was one of America’s first businesses owned and operated by women.
Over the years, she hired good chemists, managers and artists to create Rookwood Pottery which won international awards. Recognizable artists like Kataro Shirayamadani, Carl Schmidt, Matt Daly, A.R. Valentien and William McDonald placed their signature mark on the base of the pieces they decorated.
High quality craftsmanship and glazing was Rookwood’s hallmark. They produced vases, dinnerware, figurines, bookends and tiles.
The Gorham Company applied silver overlay to the pottery, and major stores like Tiffany’s carried the pieces. Visiting dignitaries made a point of stopping at Rookwood.
Even Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde visited and purchased items. The original factory site is a restaurant today.
Over the last 10-years, Rookwood Pottery has increased in popularity and value. It’s easy to identify due to markings. On the base are factory marks with a symbol for or the name itself, plus a system for dating. Also, there are clay marks showing which color or type of clay the piece came from.
Collectors look for early marks. The quality of the decoration is important as well as the artist. Be on the lookout for seconds, marked with an incised X. Cracks and blemishes can affect value considerably.
On June 3, Treadway Gallery, Cincinnati, Ohio, featured a Rookwood auction. Let’s take a look at some highlights.
Rookwood bookends, pair of Rooks (birds), brown and green matt glaze, William McDonald, 1929, 5 1/2 inches high, hairline, chip, $350
Rookwood vase, vellum glaze with carved and painted stylized flowers and leaves, Margaret McDonald, 1920, 9 inches high, mint, $1,600
Rookwood vase, iris glaze with flowering cactus, A.R. Valentien, 1902, 13 inches high, mint, $11,000
Rookwood vase, brown high glaze, full-length picture of Native American Indian in full headdress, Matt Daly, 1900, 20 inches high, mint, $12,000
Rookwood vase, high glaze painted harbor scene with seven boats in full sail, Carl Schmidt, 1923, 13 inches high, mint, $12,000
Rookwood vase, iris glaze with thirteen detailed poppies, Kataro Shirayamadani, 1907, 16 inches high, mint, $32,500
Rookwood plaque, Sea green with three birds perched on a limb, executed by A.R. Valentien, 8 by 10 inches, in period oak frame, mint, $45,000