The Ceramic Arts Studio, Madison

1942-1956
Madison Wisconsin

The Ceramic Arts Studio of Madison (CAS) produced decorative figurines, wall plaques, salt and pepper sets, and head vases from 1942 until its closing in 1956.  Its ware was distributed nationally to stores such as Marshall Fields and Gumps.

The company was originally formed in 1940 by Lawrence Rabbitt, a University of Wisconsin student who had received a WPA grant to research  Wisconsin clay.  Rabbitt produced hand-thrown pottery that he sold locally in Madison.  In January, 1941, Rabbitt went into partnership with another UW student, Reuben Sand. Sand undertook marketing and distribution of the firm’s products, produced primarily by Rabbitt. In 1942 Rabbit left the firm and Betty Harrington began modeling the figurines for which the firm is primarily known today.  CAS figurines that originally sold for two or three dollars in the 1950s can now command hundreds of dollars in the collectibles market.

CAS products are noted not only for their original stylings, but for their consistently high quality of workmanship and decoration.  Produced in a single-firing, quality control was strict. At its most successful, CAS sold 250,000 figurines annually. Japanese imports in the 1950s eventually undercut the CAS market and led to the company’s demise.

In 1998 a Wisconsin State Historical marker was erected at the site of the old studio on Blount street in Madison. The text of the sign reads:

At this site, 8-12 North Blount Street, the Ceramic Arts Studio of Madison operated from 1940 until its closing in 1956. Founded by Lawrence Rabbitt and Reuben Sand, the company was one of the largest manufacturers of figurines in the world, distributing up to 500,000 pieces annually to better gift and department stores. The vases, figurines, and salt and pepper sets—designed chiefly by Betty Harrington—were known nationally for their great originality and consistently high standards of manufacture.

BETTY HARRINGTON

In 1942, Betty Harrington visited the Ceramic Arts Studio and asked the owners to fire a figurine she had sculpted from clay found in her backyard.  Recognizing her artistic talent, co-owner Reuben Sand refused a fee, but instead asked Harrington to model more figures.  It was the beginning of Harrington’s career as a potter—in the next 14 years she designed more than 800 figurines for the company.

Today Harrington’s designs are recognized for their originality and skillful modeling. In addition to nursery rhyme and storybook characters such as Peter Pan and Little Bo Peep, Harrington designed other themed series, including animals, religious, as well as ethnic figures in native costume.  Among Harrington’s most celebrated designs are the “theater pieces”—so-called for the familiar Comedy and Tragedy figures of the series.  The line was inspired by the modern dance movement of the 1940s, as exemplified by Martha Graham.

A lifelong Wisconsin resident, Harrington designed and produced pottery–albeit on a limited basis–until her death in 1998. She designed and produced commemorative figurines available to attendees of the first Ceramic Arts Studio Collectors Association Convention in 1997.

Harrington figurines can command high prices: a salt and pepper set Harrington designed for the Novelty Salt and Pepper Shaker Collectors Club was auctioned for $5,000 at their 1992 Convention.

Book Review:

Ceramic Arts Studio: The Legacy of Betty Harrington
by Donald-Brian Johnson, Tim Holthaus and Jim Petzold

ABOUT THE BOOK
Ceramic Arts Studio: The Legacy of Betty Harrington by Donald-Brian Johnson, Tim Holthaus and Jim Petzold, is the first comprehensive look at the Studio and its principal designer. In addition to a complete visual depiction of virtually all pieces released by CAS. the book includes detailed information on the firm’s early years, as well as Betty Harrington’s artistic pursuits after its close. Vintage catalogs, ads, and original designs are included, as well as a current inventory/price guide. Completing the Studio picture are interviews with company owner Ruben Sand, early designer and co-founder Lawrence Rabbitt, Studio personnel, family members, and of course, Betty Harrington herself. While definitely a useful guide for today’s collectors, Ceramic Arts Studio: The Legacy of Betty Harrington is also an in-depth guide to the life of an artist.

 

Related Sites:

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CAS Collectors Society – A group of people with a common interest in Ceramic Arts Studio.

Ceramic Arts Studio: The Legacy of Betty Harrington – is the authoritative book by Tim Holthaus, Jim Petzold and Donald-Brian Johnson.  Information about the book, the authors & a nice history of the pottery is available.

 

McCoy Pottery

1910-1990
Roseville, Ohio


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Related Sites:

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McCoy Pottery Collector’s Society – To promote and enhance the study of McCoy Pottery for the advancement of knowledge relating to all facets of the pottery

McCoy Pottery Online – Specializes in McCoy Cookie Jars.

Chiquita’s McCoy Pottery – A collector for about 30 years, her web site is devoted to the collection, display, and historical significance of McCoy Pottery.  Pictures & descriptions of marks are listed here.

A Quick Guide to the Detection of Nelson McCoy Fakes & Reproductions

Muncie Pottery

1919-1939
Muncie Indiana


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Early Wisconsin Stoneware & Earthenware

3 examples of Wisconsin stoneware

Wir verdienen unser Geld vom Schmutz”
“We make our money from the dirt”

– Sheboygan Potter from the 19th century

Early Wisconsin Pottery

A presentation from March, 2000 by Mark Knipping.
Written by Kari Kenefick 

Mark Knipping of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin brought some of his stoneware collection to the WPA meeting, and demonstrated, perhaps inadvertently, that stoneware collectors don’t mess around.

In case you think you like stoneware and might try to pick up a piece at a sale here or there, you might have reconsidered after hearing Mark’s talk. It seems that the stoneware collectors are an extremely dedicated group, driving miles to sales, at all hours of the day or night, for a chance to add to their collections. What makes them do it?

Wisconsin Stoneware Bowl

Mark began his talk by explaining that potters learned early on that Wisconsin’s soil was not really suitable for stoneware or earthen-ware. And that it was easier during the mid-19th century, to take the potter to the clay than the clay to the potter. Due to limited means of transportation back then, moving materials such as clay around was simply not practical.

But there was stoneware and earthenware produced in Wisconsin, and Mark explained the distinctions between the two potteries and production times.

The earliest pieces produced in Wisconsin, were earthenware pots. Made of red clay, this product is also known as “red-ware”. It is traditionally glazed on the inside only, as the Wisconsin clay resulted in a porous pot that would not hold liquid without the glaze, which served as a sort of lining.

From the information Mark has gathered we know that one earthen-ware producer was still advertising his pieces in 1893, and that he died in 1899. (Sorry that poor note-taking prohibits me from providing further information, but other club members probably can fill in the gaps here.)

Wisconsin Stonewre churnAlong the shore of Lake Michigan clay could more easily be transported, which meant that potters didn’t have to rely so much on the local supply and soil type. Thus Wisconsin stoneware was born. Pieces from as early as 1840s have been found.

Mark pointed out that they differed from earthenware in that they tended to be made by factory, versus smaller home-based businesses for earthenwares. Mark pointed out that the shape of some pieces helps tell their production dates. The earlier, 1840s jugs had sloping, less defined shoulders, while the turn of the century brought the “beehive” shape, with sharply defined shoulders.

There are serious quality differences between stoneware and red-ware. Redware was fired at about 1700°F, while stoneware was fired much higher, perhaps 2700°F. The higher firing temperatures vitrified the silica in the clay, literally turning it into glass. Thus stoneware is nonporous and holds liquid.

The early stoneware producers were commonly German immigrant as tells a common motif on stoneware, the tulip, popular in Germany as a design element. If you see a stoneware piece with a tulip flower (and this design appears to have been rather liberally interpreted in some cases, with flowers hardly recognizable as tulips in many cases) you can be fairly certain that it is a German potter’s handiwork.

Members admire Wisconsin stoneware
Mark Knipping with examples he
& others brought to the March 2000 meeting.

The heyday for stoneware manufactured in Wisconsin was 1848-1875, with the Redwing company firing up their stoneware kilns and production about 1862. It was interesting to learn that Redwing shipped it’s stoneware all over the country, so Redwing Stoneware has a very large US-wide collecting market. It is very possible, and even believed by some, that Redwing drove a number of other stoneware producers out of business.

In his dissertation on Wisconsin Pottery in 1972, Mark Knippen identified 248 potters who worked at approximately 40 kilns.  He found a lot of his data by going through the 1850 through the 1890 census data looking for people who identified themselves as potters.  A question that could be answered from this data was if the person created pottery or was just in the business.

Thanks to Mark for his fascinating presentation on very old Wisconsin pottery!

Gallery – Examples from the presentation

The hand-thrown earthenware bowl above was made in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  As you can see, the bowl melted irregular in the kiln.  This was due to the poor clay found in Wisconsin.  Earthenware was produced from the local clays.  Earthenware is porous verses stoneware which is vitreous.  Stoneware is made from clay brought in from other states & mixed with sand.  Local potters would add local clays to stretch their supply of clay.  The piece above has a lead glaze to reduce absorption.  The two pieces of earthenware were made by Conrad Londenberg (sp?) who sold to 20 stores in the Sheboygan area, which he haul in a cart from store to store.  He also sold pottery from his house.  He started selling in 1856 & was still selling in 1893.  He died in 1899.

 

The stoneware crock above with the Albany slip interior is marked “T Guenther – Sheboygan”.  This was made by Theodore Guenther who got his clays from the east coast.  The crock & the two churns above & the two jugs below are salt glazed.  Salt would be thrown in the kiln where it would vaporize & then coat the pottery with a clear coating.  The blue designs were done with cobalt salts.  The brown jug below used magnesium to create that color.

Related Sites:

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Mr Bottles – Has an extensive listing of over 100 clay beer bottles made in Wisconsin from 1850 until the turn of the century.  The listings include name, location and pictures of many.  Be sure to read the introduction to clay bottles because it contains information about how they were made, of what materials, the markings and much more.  Recently added were pictures of Wisconsin Antique Stoneware.

Pittsville Pottery

Pittsville vase

Pittsville Wisconsin
1931-1943


The Pittsville Pottery was started by a Catholic priest named John Willitzer. Seeking industry for his local parish in Pittsville, Wisconsin, Willitzer, a German immigrant, sent local clay samples to Meissen, Germany for analysis of its suitability as a manufacturing clay body.

A Dr. Julius Bidtel wrote back saying that it could be used for pottery. In 1931 the Wisconsin Ceramic Company was incorporated with the priest as president and with a capital of $75,000. A plant with a kiln was quickly built.

The Depression, however, was not the ideal time to start a new business, and the firm failed in 1932. Willitzer paid $27,000 out of his own pocket to disgruntled stockholders, then started the business up again by himself with limited success. The new venture failed in 1936.

In 1939 Father Willitzer gave James Wilkins and his son William a half interest in the pottery, which then operated until about 1943.

James Wilkins had been a ceramicist at the Muncie Pottery of Muncie Indiana. Thus, some of the ware produced at Pittsville bears great similarity to that produced by Muncie, both in respect to shapes and glazes.

Although Pittsville Pottery was not widely distributed, and certainly not long in production, local collectors estimate that as many as 50 different shapes may have been produced.

Written by Nicol Knappen, WPA Member

George Ohr

1857-1918
Biloxi Mississippi


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Hull House Kilns

Banner with 3 examples of Hull House pottery

1927-1940
Chicago Illinois

A social settlement formed by Jane Adams & Ellen Gates.  The Hull House Kilns were an outgrowth of the Labor Museum organized in 1927.  The kilns made all sorts of tableware pieces, animal & children figures of dense heavy clays glazed with very bright colors.  Some had decorated or hand incised designs.

The Labor Museum gave immigrants a place to practice the old county crafts and then they were exhibited & sold there.  The Hull-House Shops conducted evening classes by social workers who belonged to the Chicago Arts & Crafts Society.  From Lehner’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Marks on Pottery, Porcelain & Clay, Lois Lehner


Hull House Kilns Pottery

From the June, 2000 presentation  by Steve Schoneck. Written by Kari Kenefick

Founded in Chicago, Hull House was the creation of Jane Adams and her friend Ellen Gates Stark, college friends.

After meeting at college some years passed before the two were reacquainted, but they did meet again and spent time traveling in Europe. The women were particularly impressed with various artistic movements they witnessed during their travels, especially in England where they visited Tawby Hall.

In 1889 Jane and Ellen moved to an apartment in Chicago and began shopping around the idea of starting a pottery. Eventually they purchased a house and over time filled it with the art they collected as they traveled. This was the beginning of Hull House; they used the house as a sort of museum and enjoyed explaining to visitors about the various pieces they had collected.

Over time the house increased in its educational value, as music, English and citizenship classes and lectures were presented there. On any given day one might find dance instructions or language classes being taught at Hull House after school. The rooms were frequently filled with boys and girls from various clubs around Chicago. A strong female presence was felt there and Hull House became known for its good female role models.

Hull House served and educated children, and Jane Adams and Ellen Stark became advocates for child labor laws that were passed in Illinois. In addition to the children that regularly visited, the house attracted persons of all ages and was considered a museum, not a school.

In the 1890’s Ellen Stark returned to Britain and learned the book binding business. She then took this knowledge back to Hull House where a bindery was started.

January 1927 saw the start of Hull House Kilns. Myrtle M. French, a ceramics instructor at the Arts Institute of Chicago, taught ceramics classes at Hull House. The clay used for this pottery was a blend of red Illinois clay and the more buff-colored clay of Minnesota. Pieces were fired in small kilns. Hull House Kilns became know for its bright-colored glazes.

The early pottery was strongly influenced by Mexican immigrants, however, many of them returned to Mexico during the Great Depression as there was no work. In 1931 the theatre at Hull House was remodeled and large ceramic wall-mounted masks of various sorts were made especially for this occasion.

(Steve Shoneck brought one of these one-of-a-kind pieces to show us the evening of his talk. See the gallery below.)

In addition to pottery, metal working classes were taught at Hull House; the pieces were sold in the Hull House shop.

The Hull House Kilns operated until the depression. Jane Adams died in 1935. Charlotte Carr became the head resident in 1938 and the Hull House shop operated until approximately 1940, although with somewhat of a shift in emphasis.

In 1961 “urban renewal” brought about the destruction of 13 of the Hull House buildings, situated on land that the University of Chicago found desirable for other uses. However, the university was persuaded to save two buildings; they constructed new structures around them.

Marks on Hull House Pottery:

An octagonal sign is often seen on Hull House pieces. It is also fairly common to see metal tags. “Hull House Chicago” is often indicated. You may also see the mark “HHK” for Hull House Kilns. The metal works are not marked. Steve noted that there was an abundance of bowls, cups and saucers made and that turquoise and orange were commonly used colors.

Gallery

Dryden Pottery

 

Ellsworth, Kansas (1946-1956), and Hot Springs, Arkansas (1956-present).


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