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The Arts and Crafts Movement in Victoria, B.C.


Rookwood Pottery

Cincinnati in the late 1800's is where the American Art Pottery Movement established its foundation. The Rookwood Pottery and later Rookwood Pottery Company, had a long tradition in the Cincinnati area as one of the most successful pottery companies in the United States in its time.

The Rookwood Pottery was founded by Maria Longworth Nichol, the granddaughter of Cincinnati real-estate millionaire, Nicholas Longworth. With the assistance of her father, Nichol established her own pottery in an old schoolhouse in 1880 and named it after their family estate.

Near the turn of the century, pottery was considered an acceptable profession for socially prominent women. Nichol organized clubs of women who handpainted pottery and attended the Rookwood School for Pottery. Married with Nichol's personal interest in the development of pottery as an art form, was her belief that it could also be a commercially viable business (Clark, pg. 119).

M969.5.3, Rookwood Ceramic Vase, Rookwood Pottery, c1900
Rookwood Ceramic Vase
Rookwood Pottery, c1900

In a few short years from the birth of the Rookwood Pottery, the success of the business grew. By 1881, the Rookwood Pottery had produced several thousand pieces and would be a dominating force in the pottery market. A line called "Standard Ware" became extremely successful and made Rookwood a household name among middle-class America.

Right from the early years, Nichol found that the administrative responsibilities of the pottery were overwhelming and hired a businessperson, William Taylor, to run the company in 1881. Taylor hired Albert Valentien, who was Rookwood's first regularly employed member of the decorating staff, which began the change from independent studios of amateurs to professional staff of decorators (Clark, pg. 119).

The pottery of Rookwood became even more commercially successful with recognitions such as a gold medal at the World's Fair in Paris in 1889. Soon after this medal was awarded to Rookwood, Nichol transferred her interests in the Pottery to Taylor, knowing that it would continue with its successes.

In several ways, Rookwood Pottery reflected the Arts and Crafts Movement's philosophy. It tried to create a pleasant working atmosphere for its craftspeople and initially encouraged individual creativity and freedom. In an essay published by the Bohemian Guild of the Industrial Art League of Chicago in 1902, Rookwook is described as "an ideal workshop" (Triggs, pg. 157). In the essay which preaches against the ills of machinery and profiteering, Rookwood Pottery is considered to:

...[have] a soul. A woman's intelligence and affection went to its upbuilding...The motive that controlled the enterprise from the beginning was the desire to produce a perfect product. Below this must have been the intention to perform a social service in perfecting a given product...the fullest possible freedom is given to the workmen; they are encouraged to experiment, to express their individuality...the spirit of the factory is that of co-operation and good fellowship.(Triggs, pg.s 159-60)

Rookwood Pottery is said to have reflected some of this persona of the Arts and Crafts Movement, partly because of the fact that in the beginning, women ran the Pottery. However, even from the very beginning, Nichol admitted that the reason for starting the Pottery was for her "own gratification" (Callen, pg. 81). In fact, a major reason why she hired women was that they could be paid less than men (ibid., pg. 81).

Once William Taylor took full control of Rookwood Pottery and renamed it the Rookwood Pottery Company, he closed down the Rookwood School of Pottery and disallowed the Pottery club which was a foundation piece of the Rookwood Pottery. He is said to have not tolerated the use of the company as an "outlet for genteel ladies with artistic leanings" (Callen, pg. 81). Taylor immediately started to replace many of the women with men. However, due to the fact that many of the women were truly talented and contributed greatly to the company and that they were much cheaper to employ than men, Taylor consequently kept many of the women at the company.

M969.13.95, Roycroft Copper and Silver Vase, the Roycroft Institute, c1901
Rookwood Ceramic Bowl
Rookwood Pottery, c1890

If it was not evident before, it was certainly evident after Taylor took the reigns of Rookwood; commercial success and profit were the company's focus. Despite this drive for commercial success, Taylor engaged in many publicity campaigns to try to align the image of the company closer to that of the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Propaganda about the needs of artists before shareholders and artistic freedom were common from the Rookwood Pottery Company.

However, the goal of commercial success remained and by the 1890's Rookwood began standardizing production to increase productivity to meet the great demand for the pottery pieces. For the most part, mould casting replaced hand-thrown wares. The company even experimented with lines of mass produced goods under different labels, but these were not a success and were quickly abandoned.

Technical advances such as an atomizer and a machine to remove air bubbles in clay helped in Rookwood's ability to produce more wares at lower costs. To continue commercial success, Rookwood also took a change in their approach to marketing by following the market and reacting to people's trends instead of leading the styles and tastes of consumers.

Although to this day, Rookwood is considered one of the foremost potters at the time of the turn of the century, it is acknowledged that the complete abandonment of the Arts and Crafts Movement's principles of high quality and artistic freedom to one that was more commercially oriented resulted in wares that in the end, did not match the quality of the earlier Rookwood Pottery pieces (Clark, pg. 120).

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