Red Wing, Minnesota
The Red Wing Legacy: Stoneware, Art Ware and Dinnerware
Red Wing Pottery Company was the featured exhibit at the WPA’s Annual Show and Sale of 2002. The following information and galleries are from the press releases and other information created to support that exhibit.
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Some History of Red Wing Pottery Company
Red Wing, Minnesota was home to the manufacture of utilitarian stoneware, art pottery and dinnerware from 1861 until 1967. The great American art potter Susan Frackelton sent her salt-glazed ware from Milwaukee to be fired at Red Wing in the 1890s, and the company made pig figurines and other novelties as early as 1885. But this work was insignificant compared to the huge quantity of stoneware produced there, and shipped everywhere in the country.
John Paul was the first known maker of jugs, crocks and jars in Red Wing, and was active in 1861. He was followed by the Red Wing Terra Cotta Company (1866-1877), and the Minnesota Pottery (1875-1877). Encouraged by nearby clay deposits and ready access to water, fuel, and transportation, three other companies were soon started: the Red Wing Stoneware Company (1877), the Minnesota Stoneware Company (1883), and the North Star Stoneware Company (1892). These three organized the Union Stoneware Company in 1894 to act as their single sales representative.
In 1896, North Star was absorbed by the other companies, which in turn merged in 1906 to form a single entity, Red Wing Union Stoneware. The new company adopted two “paired leaf” logos as page 3 trademarks. Around this time, a transparent white glaze replaced the salt glaze or brown albany slip used previously, and a little later, stamped labels and decoration replaced freehand artwork. Pieces with the new white glaze, but with hand decoration are known as “transitional pieces” and can be dated to the turn of the century, as can the “red wing” trademark, first used in 1909. The Red Wing Legacy: Stoneware, Art Ware and Dinnerware will include many examples of rare early stoneware and figurines.
Turn-of-the-century production at Red Wing was diversified in other ways. Red Wing was making spittoons, umbrella holders, jardinieres and garden ware by 1900. And, like other stoneware makers, the art pottery craze of the late 19th century led Red Wing to make its first true art ware.
“Brushed Ware” was made by a number of stoneware producers including Red Wing, Monmouth (Illinois), and Robinson-Ransbottom (Ohio). Color was applied to molded stoneware, and then lightly “brushed away” leaving contrasting areas on the embossed design. Author and Red Wing expert Ray Reiss (Red Wing Art Pottery, 1995) notes this was a part of Red Wing’s regular production by 1906, and remained a staple until at least the 1930s, if not longer. (Brushed ware is still being made by Robinson-Ransbottom, among others, for garden use.)
More conventional art pottery was first made at Red Wing in the 1920s, becoming a staple, along with lamp bases, by 1930. Red Wing art ware from this decade usually has a circular blue ink mark and molded form numbers. The shapes were designed by in-house potters, often in the Neo-Classical and Egyptian Revival styles. Notable artisans from this period through the 1940s included George Hehr, Lou McGrew and Teddy Hutchson. Glazes were most often glossy yellow or green, with mulberry, dark blue, and others produced to a lesser degree. Red Wing also invented a complex glaze called Nokomis which was a mottled mix of green, blue, tan and gray shades. It is highly prized today.
Red Wing was hurt by the Great Depression, and the sale of stoneware storage jars was decreasing as electric refrigeration spread, but the firm got an infusion of energy and new ideas from George Rumrill in 1933. A talented salesman and entrepreneur, Rumrill copied glazes and forms from his previous employers, the Arkansas potteries Niloak and Camark. He (or his wife) also created some fine new art forms such as the Athenian Line which featured stylized Art Nouveau and Art Deco nudes.
Rumrill’s partnership with Red Wing ended in 1937. After winning a dispute over ownership of his trademark name, he went on to make “RumRill” pottery in Ohio. George Rumrill died in 1943, and is best remembered today for the wonderful pottery he page 5 helped create at Red Wing. The Red Wing Legacy: Stoneware, Art Ware and Dinnerware will include many great examples of RumRill, and other Red Wing art Pottery from the 1920s and 1930s.
In 1936, Red Wing Union Stoneware re-incorporated as Red Wing Potteries, Inc., to better reflect its diverse production, which by then included kitchenware and dinnerware, in addition to stoneware, lamps, and art pottery.
Red Wing contracted with the talented freelance industrial designer Belle Kogan in 1938. Based in New York, Kogan designed houseware in glass, plastics and ceremics from 1931 until 1970. Her ceramics clients included the Brush Pottery, Cordey China, and Nelson McCoy Pottery, among others. Red Wing issued 100 of Kogan’s art pottery designs in 1938, as well as her Fondoso, a dinnerware line within itsGypsy Trail Group. Kogan’s popular Magnolia Group was launched in 1940, and her Red Wing kitchenware designs from this time period include the five fruit cookie jars.
Belle Kogan’s work for Red Wing decreased when the firm hired Charles Murphy as its in-house designer in 1940. Murphy became Red Wing’s most important designer-artist. He created dinnerware patterns, figurines, the cookie jars Friar Tuck, Katrina the Dutch Girl, andPierre the Chef, and many art pottery lines. Murphy left Red Wing after WWII after a falling out with page 6 management, but returned in 1953. In the interim, Belle Kogan was again contracted, and she produced additional designs for Red Wing from 1949 through 1963. Notable among these is the art pottery line Prismatique, issued in 1962.
Murphy worked for Red Wing until the firm closed in 1967. In his important book Art Pottery of the Midwest, author Marion John Nelson notes that “American art pottery never became more stylistically advanced” then in some Red Wing’s later ware, for example, Prismatique, and Murphy’s Decorator Line, which was introduced in 1960. The Red Wing Legacy: Stoneware, Art Ware and Dinnerware will include examples of the modernistic art pottery created by Murphy and others from the 1940s through the 1960s.
Red Wing Dinnerware
Red Wing dinnerware production began in 1935 with Gypsy Trail, a RumRill product. Gypsy Trail was glazed in the bright colors popular at that time, and was eventually made in several embossed patterns. As the production of stoneware decreased, the financial importance of dinnerware increased, with this becoming “the pottery’s staple product from the early 1940s until operations ceased in 1967.” (Nelson, page 81).
Most Red Wing dinnerware patterns were designed by Charles Murphy, but one notable exception was the best seller Town and Country, which was created in 1946 by industrial designer Eva Zeisel while Murphy was away from Red Wing. It became one of Red Wing’s most important commercial products upon its release in 1947, and was sold for many years.
As Marion John Nelson notes, Red Wing dinnerware was significant artistically, as well as commercially. Red Wing’s art pottery never used the under glaze painting tradition that began with the American china painting hobby of the late 19th century, and which led to the Rookwood Pottery, its greatest practitioner from 1880 to the 1950s. But underglaze painting was used in Murphy’s dinnerware designs, and beautifully too; his cowboys, birds and other cheerful, clever and distinctly American designs give Red Wing dinnerware a place among the very best ever made in this country. It also marked the end of the large scale commercial use of this venerable decorating tradition in the USA. The Red Wing Legacy: Stoneware, Art Ware and Dinnerware will display examples of all the dinnerware patterns made by Red Wing from 1935 until 1967.
The primary references for this article were Red Wing Art Pottery, by Ray Reiss, 1995, and Art Pottery of the Midwest by Marion John Nelson, 1988.
About the 2002 exhibit
The Wisconsin Pottery Association (WPA), in conjunction with the Red Wing Collectors Society Inc., will host The Red Wing Legacy: Stoneware, Art Ware and Dinnerware, an exhibit of the pottery made at Red Wing, Minnesota from 1861 through 1967. Although the emphasis will be on Red Wing art pottery, the 300+ piece display will represent the range of manufacture at Red Wing, and will also include rare early salt glaze pieces, transitional and white glaze stoneware, figurines, RumRill art ware, kitchenware, and lamps. And, as an extra attraction, examples of all of Redwing’s dinnerware patterns will be displayed.
The exhibit will feature many experimental and one of kind items, as well as Red Wing’s day to day production. As always, the Exhibit will be educational. There will be program materials on the history of Red Wing and its pottery.
The Red Wing Legacy: Stoneware, Art Ware and Dinnerware, will be held with the WPA’s top-flight Pottery Show and Sale, featuring over 50 of the nation’s best dealers selling all types of antique and collectible pottery. The Exhibit and Show will be held on August 24, 2002 in Madison, Wisconsin, one day only. WPA members will again informally identify/evaluate pottery for visitors, limit one item per admission. Red Wing, Minnesota was home to the manufacture of utilitarian stoneware, art pottery and dinnerware from 1861 until 1967. The great American art potter Susan Frackelton sent her salt-glazed ware from Milwaukee to be fired at Red Wing in the 1890s, and the company made pig figurines and other novelties as early as 1885. But this work was insignificant compared to the huge quantity of stoneware produced there, and shipped everywhere in the country.
Ray Reiss, well known photographer and author of two Red Wing Art Pottery books, and a book on Red Wing dinnerware, will be the featured guest at the Pottery Sale and Exhibit. Mr. Reiss will give a presentation about Red Wing Art Pottery.
This will be the Wisconsin Pottery Association’s seventh all – Pottery Show/Sale and Exhibit of American Art Pottery. The WPA is a non-profit organization formed in 1992 by collectors interested in studying and promoting collectible pottery. Meetings are held monthly and include speakers and informal discussions on pottery. For more information, write the WPA at PO Box 46, Madison, Wisconsin 53701-0046, or visit www.wisconsinpottery.org our website.
The Pottery Show/Sale, and the exhibit: The Red Wing Legacy: Stoneware, Art Ware and Dinnerware will be one day only, Saturday, August 24, 2002 in Madison, Wisconsin at the Alliant Energy Center, off Rimrock Road near John Nolen Drive. From I-90 take exit 142A, Hwy 12-18 west 5 miles to Exit 262, Rimrock Road then right (north) ¼ mile. For a map, visit our website. The Exhibit and Show will be open from 9am until 4pm. Admission will be $4, or $3 with a display ad from this paper or a download from the WPA website or any official WPA coupon. For free parking at the Alliant Energy Center, tell the parking attendant you are going to the pottery show.
You will find galleries of the stoneware, dinnerware and art pottery pieces from the 2002 WPA Annual Show and Sale Exhibit: The Red Wing Legacy: Stoneware, Art Ware and Dinnerware in our section on Past Shows.
Related Sites: (The sites will open up in a new window)
Red Wing Collectors Society – The Red Wing Collectors Society, Inc. is an organization which promotes the collection of Red Wing and American pottery. Founded in 1977, the society has over 7000 members in 48 states, Canada and England.
Red Wing Dinnerware – An impressive website listing & showing all of the dinnerware lines. Included brochures and other information.
Red Wing Trading Post – A reference point on Red Wing Pottery due to the large variety of items shown. Basic information about Red Wing is also available.