Susan Frackelton of Milwaukee was a leader in the art of china painting, a popular hobby for women during the late 19th century. Frackelton authored a widely-read book on the subject, and she developed a portable gas-fired kiln that allowed decorators to work at home.
She also won national and international awards for the special mineral paints she developed. During the 1880s, the Milwaukee-based Frackelton China Decorating Works produced up to 2,000 pieces of professionally painted china each week.
Susan Frackelton was awarded a gold medal at the 1893 Columbian Exposition for her unique salt-glazed art pottery.
Salt-glazed stoneware, as manufactured by such companies as Charles Hermann of Milwaukee or the Red Wing, Minnesota potteries, was widely used for utilitarian purposes at the time. Frackelton was the first to use this technique for art pottery in the United States.
She created her art pottery to demonstrate the quality of Wisconsin clay, rather than as a commercial venture. For this reason, relatively few pieces of Frackelton Pottery were produced, and it is extremely rare today.
Nevertheless, Frackelton’s work was widely-known and highly admired by her contemporaries. For example, a Frackelton vase was purchased by the Pennsylvania Museum in 1893 for the (then) enormous sum of $500.
Frackelton stopped potting and relocated to Chicago around 1904, where she died in 1932. The bulk of the collection in the State Historical Society of Wisconsin was donated by Frackelton’s daughter.
The Wisconsin Pottery Association was happy to display it to the public for the first time at the September 6, 1998 show. To view this collection, view the gallery below.
The following items were photographed from The State Historical Society of Wisconsin Collection.
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Wisconsin Historical Society – An online version of their exhibit with catalog of Susan Frackelton pieces of painted china, artware and related items.
Century House was the name of a Madison, Wisconsin tavern building, originally erected in 1836. In October of 1948, Priscilla Jane Scalbom purchased the building for $6,000.
A Madison high school art teacher who had been educated at the Art Institute of Chicago, Scalbom began a pottery production and retail operation which she called Century House, after the building. In 1949, Scalbom married Max Howell, another potter, who had learned the craft in California. Continue reading “Century House Pottery”
Chicago Illinois 1883-1888
Edgerton Wisconsin 1888-1911
Pauline Jacobus was an accomplished china painter who taught the subject in her Chicago home. After developing an interest in art pottery, she went to Cincinnati in 1881 where she studied at the Rookwood School for Pottery Decoration.
She founded the Pauline Pottery in 1883. It was the first art pottery company in Chicago.
Jacobus moved production to Edgerton, Wisconsin in 1888 where a high-quality white clay was available. At the height of production, the company employed about 40 people, and its art pottery lines were sold in Marshall Field’s in Chicago and Tiffany’s in New York. In addition to its art pottery production, the company had a contract with the Bell Telephone Company to produce porous ceramic cups for electric batteries.
When dry cell batteries eliminated the need for this product, the Pauline Pottery was forced into bankruptcy in 1894. Pauline Jacobus continued to make art pottery until her retirement in 1911, first with Pauline Pottery’s successor firm Edgerton Pottery from 1894 until 1902, and later at her home as an independent studio potter.
The Pauline Pottery was produced in a wide range of shapes and forms including covered jars, teapots, cups, lamps, ewers and vases. Floral and geometric designs predominate.
Early pieces may be marked Pauline Pottery in block letters, while later pieces often bear a mark resembling a crown. However, there is little uniformity in Pauline markings, and unmarked pieces are not uncommon.
Pauline Pottery is difficult to find today and avidly sought by collectors.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.)
Along 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.
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.
(The sites will open up in a new window)
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.
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.
Wisconsin Pottery Association 2010 Exhibit
August 28, 2010
The Wisconsin Pottery Association held its 15th annual Pottery Show and Sale on Saturday August 28, 2010. All types of antique and collectible pottery were on sale. Some 50 Pottery dealers from across the nation participated, as well as noted studio potters.
The show, titled Wisconsin Art Pottery 1930 to 2010 included a great selection of Wisconsin Pottery including examples of Ceramic Art Studio, Century House, Pittsville and Kohler pottery. Studio potters include Carlton Ball, Don Reitz, Scott Draves, Aaron Bohrod, Eric Olson and more. Continue reading “2010 Show: Wisconsin Art Pottery 1930-2010”
Wisconsin Pottery Association 2008 Exhibit
August 23, 2008
The Wisconsin Pottery Association held its 13th annual Pottery Show and Sale on Saturday August 23, 2008. All types of antique and collectible pottery were on sale for one day only. About 50 Pottery dealers from across the nation participated, as well as noted studio potters.
Pauline and the Pottery of Edgerton, Wisconsin was the theme of the 2008 exhibit. Visitors saw a great selection of pottery associated from Edgerton, Wisconsin including Pauline Pottery, American Art Clay Works, Edgerton Pottery Company, Rock Pottery, Pickard China, Edgerton Art Clay Works and Norse Pottery.
The Exhibit titled: Pauline and the Pottery of Edgerton, Wisconsin was held at the Exhibition Hall at the Alliant Energy Center.