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Presentation by Nicol Knappen from November 2000
The Camden Art Tile and Pottery Company was founded in the fall of 1926 in Camden, Arkansas, by Samuel “Jack” Carnes, John Lessell, Stephen Sebaugh and the Camden Chamber of Commerce. Factory production began in the summer of 1927.
John Lessell produced first designs of (Camark’s) “Lesselware” in Ohio using Arkansas clays. A veteran of many pottery companies, his designs traveled with him as he moved from firm to firm. His Camark designs include Old English Rose (similar to Weller Marengo), Bronze (similar to Weller LaSa and Owen China Company Swastika Keramos). Other lines emulate J.B. Owens’ Sudanese and Oppalesce lines. Lessell died suddenly in December 1926 while still in Ohio; after his death his wife and stepdaughter moved to Camden to do decorating for the firm until the end of 1927.
Other beginning employees included Stephen Sebaugh, who developed mono, bi and tri chromate glazes. Sebaugh had worked with Lessell at other companies and understood the complexities of Lessell’s luster glazes.
Designer Alfred Tetzschner was another early employee. He introduced a modernistic line in 1927 – this line included Cracko and Spano. Former Niloak handthrower Frank Long joined Camark in the spring of 1927. Former Muncie and Weller employee Boris Trifonoff came aboard sometime before 1930 and is credited with development of mottled, stippled and drip glazes.
Camark’s early ware produced or designed by Lessell, a pioneer of the American Arts Pottery movement, is much sought after. Camark produced before 1935 is often associated with the Arts & Crafts movement, but this is tenuous at best. Matte glazes and simple wheelthrown shapes reinforce this idea, but the early Camark designers undoubtedly considered their work as “modern.” About 25 early Camark shapes are similar or identical to products manufactured by RumRill and Red Wing. George Rumrill once distributed Camark and Niloak pottery through his Arkansas Clay Products company, circa 1930. Some Pfaltzgraff and Coors shapes emulate Camark as well. The similar catalogs of all these firms suggest a common source for the catalogs, if not the molds themselves.
Jack Carnes returned from European trips with wares that served as inspiration for new Camark products. For instance the Camark hanging cat is said to have French origins.
Ernest Lechner joined the Camden Arkansas pottery in 1939 to assist in the production of the basrelief handpainted ware. From that point until the pottery’s closing, Camark produced vases, decorative bowls and flower frogs, console sets, flower pots and some utility items such as teapots, cups and saucers, salt and peppers shakers, as well as decorative wall plaques.
Jack Carnes, one of the Camark Pottery founders, died in 1958. The company was sold to Mary Daniel in the early 1960s and remained in production sporadically until her death in 1983. She operated the company primarily as a retail store, using past inventory. While the pottery closed after Ms. Daniel’s death, it was purchased and is presently owned by the Ashcroft family of Camden.