The content below is a report on the Clewell Pottery presentation made by member Betsy Knutzen in February 2000.
Clewell is one of those potteries for which there is very little printed information. Betty went back through old journals seeking data for her talk. The following is a bit of what she learned and presented to the WPA.
Betty showed several pieces from her & her husband Dave’s collection. Her first Clewell was not a pottery vase, but instead was metal vase. She told of finding it in a garage at an estate sale (Dave got the house that day). To the right is the vase.
The following article appeared in the April 2000 edition of the WPA Press.
At the February WPA meeting we had the pleasure of learning about Clewell Pottery from Betty Knutzen. Always humble, Betty told us that before her research for this talk, she didn’t know much about Clewell Pottery herself. However, unlike some of us, Betty does own a few pieces of this unique pottery, which she and husband Dave shared with the WPA in this February of this year.
Charles W. Clewell was a metal craftsman, not a potter. Paul Evans, in his text “Art Pottery of the United States” said that metal workers and potters fed on each others’ work. Some potteries of the early 1900s featured animals on their pots, not unlike metalwork.
In addition, McCoy and Weller used glazes that had a metallic look. Rookwood potters and others used metal overlay on standard glazes. Charles Clewell also mixed pottery and metal, but he was the first to use an entire metal overlay. Clewell was born in Ohio in 1876. He became an engraving apprentice, gaining employment with Diebold metalworkers.
Dick Sigafoose, in his book entitled “American Art Pottery” (1998) said that Charles Walter Clewell, of Canton, Ohio, started experimenting with copper, brass, bronze and silver products in about 1899, producing cast, hand-wrought and riveted pieces. In 1906 Clewell opened his first business and by 1909 had developed his metal-on-pottery technique. Clewell accomplished this by appIy a skin-tight shell, often copper or bronze, over a clay pot. Clewell worked on this technique for years to perfect it. He was highly secretive about the process he used, but it appeared to be a form of electroplating. Several other ceramic and glass factories utilized electroplating during this same time period.
In terms of the clay figures utilized for his metal-covered pieces, Clewell is known to have used ceramics from Ohio potteries such as Owens and Weller.
The idea for the blue-green patinaed pieces that Clewell worked to achieve, is said to have come from his mother’s kitchen. He liked the oxidized look of old metal and was known to have studied pieces in junkyards. Clewell was especially a fan of the patina that appeared on copper and bronze. In 1923 Clewell finally accomplished the color he sought to achieve-a more blue-green colored finish. His next step was to speed up the process used to achieve this perfect blue-green, and developed a way to stop the color before it advanced too far.
Clewell did not share how to achieve these patinaed colors with anyone. And no one has since replicated Clewell’s work, His only employee was his daughter, who worked as his salesperson.
In 1937 Clewell took some of his pieces to the Paris Exposition, where he was awarded a medal for his efforts.
Clewell production continued throughout his lifetime, with the exception of a 10-year period; from about 1940-1951 his work was discontinued while he worked for Timkin Roller Bearing Company. In 1965 at the age of 89, Clewell died. His daughter is said to have sold his remaining pieces. The Jessie Besmer Museum in Alpina, Michigan has an exhibit of 90 pieces of Clewell’s work.
A gallery of the pieces presented to the group at Betty’s presentation.
Marks on Clewell Pottery: In his book “American Art Pottery“, Dick Sigafoose notes that Clewell pieces are marked with an incised “Clewell,” an impressed “Clewell Metal Art, Canton 0.,” “Clewell Coppers,” Clewell Canton 0.,” or a “W” within a letter “C”.
The following are some examples of Clewell markings.
Thanks to Rick & Stepanie for use of their images.