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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Vase; by Grace Young; Standard glaze; 1900; #900; 9 1/2 inches high; $8,813. Photo courtesy of Treadway Gallery
There is a haunting quality to this pottery. Each piece pictures a finely painted portrait of a Native American brave. Sometimes in full headdress. Sometimes not.

Made by the Rookwood Company around 1900, the Standard glaze used on these pieces was a deep yellow, orange and red over dark brown.

The colors have a way of fading into each other like aging autumn leaves. Add to the mix a high gloss and you have an extraordinary piece of art pottery.

The artists who made these pieces loved their work. It shows in the attention to detail. Each vessel pays homage to the man it portrays.

Rookwood made all kinds of pottery, but the Native American series is especially powerful and collectible. It began with Maria Nichols Storer.

Options for women during the Victorian era were limited. One of the few areas of self-expression open to them was blank china painting. It may sound absurd now, but china painting was considered one of the few appropriate outlets for a lady’s creative talents.

What started out as an amateur pottery club for Nichols turned into a huge Cincinnati business in 1880. It was one of the first women owned businesses in America.

Nichols attended the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876. She was inspired by the elegant European pottery and exotic ceramics of China and Japan on display.

Her vision for the company early on was artistic rather than commercial. She hired accomplished painters and sculptors. By 1889, Rookwood Pottery was known worldwide and had won a gold metal at the Paris World's Fair.

From American Indian portraits and Japanese motifs to unique glazes, rich colors and unusual decorating methods, Rookwood pottery was cutting edge for its time.

Hit hard by Depression and decline in luxury items, Rookwood filed for bankruptcy in 1941. Numerous owners tried to restore the company, but it closed for good in 1960. The original molds were purchased by a clock company and later by a dentist who made small quantities of tiles each year.

From a collector’s standpoint, Rookwood is highly desirable today. One reason is that each piece is often signed on the bottom by the artist who modeled or painted it. Plus, there are potters marks and a dating system.

It makes identification easy which you don’t find in many areas of collecting. Even though the bodies of each pottery piece were largely mass-produced, most were individually decorated. So, it’s hard to find two exactly alike pieces.

One of the most common symbols started in 1886 was a capital P standing back-to-back with a reversed R. A flame was added around the symbol each year after. Charts showing the marks over the years can be found in Rookwood books.

Some of the most desirable Rookwood are the early pieces. You want to pay close attention to the quality of decoration.

Even good artists have bad days. Some pieces are better executed than others. Condition is important.

Damage, repair and blemishes reduce value. Also, watch out for seconds. They’re marked with an incised X. A few of the most popular Rookwood artists included Katoro Shirayamadani, Matthew Andrew Daly, Sarah Sax, Artus Van Briggle, and Grace Young.

On June 4-5, Treadway Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio, featured a selection of Native American portrait, Rookwood pottery in its Decorative arts auction. Here are some current values.

Native American Portrait Pottery

Vase; by Sturgis Laurence; Standard glaze; 1900; ground X; #900B; 9 1/2 inches high; $1,645.

Handled vessel; by Bruce Horsfall; Standard glaze; 1895; 587B; 4 1/2 inches high; $4,112.

Vase; by Sadie Markland; Standard glaze; 1898; #830E; 4 1/2 inches high; $5,875.

Vase; by Grace Young; Standard glaze; 1900; #900; 9 1/2 inches high; $8,813.

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