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Rookwood PotteryAuthor: Marcia Ray
Rookwood, the first art pottery in the United States - and the most distinctive - began as an amateur effort. Mrs. Maria Longworth Nichols (later Mrs. Bellamy Storer, Jr.) was one of a group of talented society women in Cincinnati, Ohio, who took up china painting under Benn Pitman of the Cincinnati School of Design. Their work was so good that some of it was exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876. Mrs. Nichols, who went along to the Exposition, was enthralled by a display of Japanese pottery, and resolved to make pottery herself, using Ohio clays.
Her father bought an abandoned schoolhouse and fitted up for her as a pottery. She named it Rookwood for his country place, and in November 1880, began operation. At first it was an expensive luxury. Mrs. Nichols was experimenting with clays amd glazes and colors, and in the first year, except for her own work, the pottery turned out for sale only pitchers, teapots, and teaware of simple red or yellow clays.
In 1883, she induced William Watts Taylor to become manager of the pottery, and by 1889 it had become self-sustaining. The firm was incoporated in that year with Mr. Taylor as president, a post he held until his death in 1913. Production centered on the elegant decorative forms which made Rookwood famous.
Barber in his Pottery and Porcelains of the United States, classified Rookwood finished under three headings: Cameo, shell-tinted ware, generally of a beautiful pink color shading into white, and highly glazed; Dull finished, similar in color, but having the appearance of being unglazed; and Rookwood Faience, highly glazed, and the most characteristic of all Rookwood wares. All varieties are distinguished by the tinting and harmonious blending of the grounds beneath the heavy, transparent colored glazes which gave brilliancy and depth to the rich tones of black, yellow, red, olive, green, brown and amber - the colors most often associated with Rookwood.
The artists who decorated Rookwood wares were exceptionally gifted. Most of them signed their work. Among these were Ketaro Shirayamandi, a Japanese artist brought over my Mrs. Nichols, and Artus Van Briggle, who later, in 1901, had his own pottery company in Colorado Springs.
Before 1886, various marks were used on Rookwood wares, but in that year, the reverse "R" and "P" with downstrokes overprinted, was adopted. Each year thereafter, until 1900, a Roman numeral was put at the bottom. The Rookwood Potter was still in operation until 1960, have been purchased by the Herschede Hall Clock Co., and moved to Starkville, Miss.
The eight main types of Rookwood, as illustrated in The Rookwood Book, published by the Rookwood Pottery in 1905, were listed and pictured in SW sep'55, along with various Rookwood marks. Nancy Fitzpatrick's fine account of Rookwood appeared in SW apr, oct, and nov '60.