20th Century Studio Art Potteries

15 Dec 2011

By Sharen Custer, 62days expert

After the grand Paris Exhibition in 1862 Europe fell in love with Japanese aesthetics and design. Furniture, interior and architectural decorations, pottery and fine art were all influenced by the Oriental or Neo Chinoiserie style (although Japan was the main source for influence, the name remained in use from the 18th century reference to Chinese and Japanese influence – Chinoiserie).

The West established a new collective style, both in art and in other cultural divisions, such as literature, that was called Aesthetic Movement, and that Oriental influence had a distinctive part in the formation of this style.

Ceramics was one of the strongest and widely available mediums in which Japanese influence was visible. In the 1920s Japan was the main source of inspiration for Bernard Leach (1887-1979) who was the leading figure in European and American modern movement in pottery making. His work had a much newer look than anything than was available previously – with its simple forms and opaque, green-blue glazes.

His work influenced a range of young and very talented ceramicists, such as his son David Leach (1911-2005), and his later wife Janet Darnell (1918-1995), who created the iconic melon and gourd shaped pots. Other craftsmen who were influenced by Leach both in Europe and in the North America are Geoffrey Whiting (1919-1988), Lucie Rie (1902-1995), Hans Coper (1920-1981), Michael Cardew (1901-1983), Katherine Playdell-Bouverie (1895-1985), Norah Braden (1901-2001), Elizabeth Fritsch (born 1940), Ewan Henderson (1934-2000), Gordon Baldwin (born 1932), Alison Britton (born 1948), Jerry Rothman (born 1933), Peter Voulkos (1924-2002), Walter Keeler (born 1942), Fiona Salazar (born 1949), Linda Gunn-Russell (born 1953), Magdalene Odundo (born 1950), Janice Tchalenko (born 1942), Alan Caier-Smith (born 1930) and others, who worked as designers and decorators for the main pottery companies or created studio art ceramics on their own.

In America the enthusiasm for studio art pottery-making hit a very rich ground. Cincinnatti, Ohio, was one of the important pottery-making centres in the late 19th century. In the 1880s the most famous was the Rockwood Pottery, founded by Maria Longworth Nichols (1849-1932). When the pottery won a Grand Prix at the 1900 Paris Exhibition, it started a collecting craze both in the US and Europe with its elegant floral designs of vases, medallions and plaques; wares decorated with Native American figures, animals and birds.

Rockwood Pottery ceased its production in 1941 but left a very strong impact on the international ceramics scene and collectors from all round the world compete for their early items. Artus van Briggle (1869-1904), who was an artist working at Rockwood, started his own pottery in Colorado Springs, making Art Nouveau pieces with a glowing matt glaze finish. Van Briggle ceramics are very popular among the collectors.

Another famous American pottery was Lonhuda Pottery located at Zanesville, Ohio. The famous designers Laura Fry (1857-1943) and Jacques Sicard (1865-1923) worked for Lohunda. Fry also worked at Rockwood, and Sicard worked for the Weller Pottery. Works designed or decorated by these artists are exceptionally collectable as they are considered the pillars of American studio art pottery.

In New Orleans, the Newcomb Pottery opened in 1897 as part of the Sophie Newcomb Memorial College for Women. Mary Sheerer (1865-1954) was the designer. Its speciality was clean and elegant shapes, usually glazed in misty colours, often monochrome palettes and decorated with floral motifs.

Other famous American potteries include the Chelsea Keramic Works of Chelsea, Massachusetts, which copied Oriental glazes on its Dedham Ware; the Roseville Pottery Company of Zanesville, which made a very large variety of art pottery; the Pewabic Pottery in Detroit, Michigan; and the Grueby Faience and Tile Company of Boston, who created heavy pottery decorated with plants in low relief and with a monochrome finish.

Today, those looking to buy or sell antiques of this type should seek to establish the authenticity of the pieces and ensure to undertake research into the market to establish value.