What is Art Pottery?
Inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain, American art potters approached ceramics as an art form. They experimented with a variety of new glazes and decorative techniques and focused on creating vases and other ornamental wares instead of utilitarian pieces like cups and plates. There is no single style of American art pottery, but some well-known examples include Rookwood’s elegant painted landscapes, Teco’s dramatic forms, and the Paul Revere Pottery’s charming illustrations.
The Art Pottery of Pauline Jacobus
Pauline Jacobus established the Pauline Pottery in Chicago in 1883 and relocated the company to Edgerton in 1888. In creating her art pottery wares, Jacobus incorporated the forms and decorative techniques of some of the most influential potteries and ceramic designers of her time. Pauline wares were made using molds, some of which–like the long-necked pitchers and the globular vases–were similar to forms used by the Rookwood Pottery of Cincinnati, where Jacobus took classes before beginning to work in art pottery. The majority of the Pauline wares are decorated with hand-painted underglaze–paints applied with brushes after a first firing, then coated with a clear glaze and fired a second time. The most common motif–a variety of flowers in solid colors, outlined in black–is reminiscent of the work of John Bennett, a widely admired decorator for the Doulton Pottery of London who relocated to New York City in 1877. Other Pauline works show the influence of Laura Fry, a decorator for Rookwood who worked briefly with Jacobus in Chicago–including carving and gilding as well as the use of Fry’s own invention, an atomizer (airbrush), to create spattered backgrounds or smooth glaze transitions.
Timeline: Edgerton’s Art Potteries
The success of the Pauline Pottery, combined with the area’s high-quality clay beds, attracted a number of ceramic artists to Edgerton. Between 1888 and 1909, the community was home to six successful pottery companies.
1881 Pauline Jacobus takes classes in ceramic decoration at the newly founded Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati
- 1883 Jacobus returns to Chicago to start making her own art pottery, bringing decorator Laura Fry and kiln builder John Sargent with her from Rookwood to help jumpstart the operation, which she calls Pauline Pottery.
- 1888 Jacobus and her husband Oscar relocate the pottery to Edgerton, Wisconsin in order to gain access to the high-quality cream-colored earthenware clay beds found in the area. In Edgerton, Oscar manages the production of earthenware cups for electric batteries (the pottery’s primary income generator) while Pauline works with a staff of women decorators. (A ca. 1890s image of the Pauline Pottery building in Edgerton is available online from Wisconsin Historical Images.)
- 1891 The Pauline Pottery recruits Thorwald Samson and Louis Ipson, professional potters at the Hjords Pottery in Denmark, to work as designers.
- 1892 Samson and Ipson establish their own pottery company in Edgerton, the American Art Clay Works, producing busts and figurines made from local terra-cotta.
- 1894 Faced with financial difficulties after the 1893 death of Oscar Jacobus, the Pauline Pottery is forced to close. The company is reorganized as the Edgerton Pottery Company and continues to manufacture earthenwares for industrial use. Some art pottery is also produced under the name Rock Pottery, using Pauline Pottery molds. Pauline Jacobus, not involved with the new company, begins to teach pottery making and decorating from her home in southern Dane County.
- 1894 Two former Pauline Pottery employees–salesman Wilder Pickard and decorator Mae Johnson–establish Pickard China, a studio for the decoration of imported porcelain blanks, in Edgerton.
- 1895 Edgerton attorney Louis H. Towne purchases the American Art Clay Works, renaming it Edgerton Art Clay Works.
- 1899 Thorwald Samson returns to Denmark and the Edgerton Art Clay Works closes.
- 1901 The Edgerton Pottery Company closes; Pauline Jacobus acquires one of their kilns and has it rebuilt on the grounds of her home.
- 1902 The Pauline Pottery is back in business, operating on a smaller scale from Jacobus’s home
- 1903 Samson reunites with Louis Ipson to form a new pottery in Edgerton, the Norse Pottery. This new line is modeled on the forms and motifs of ancient Scandinavian artifacts and features a distinctive black and bronzed matte finish.
- 1904 A. W. Wheelock, a wholesale pottery dealer, purchases the Norse Pottery and relocates it to Rockford, Illinois.
- 1905 Pickard China relocates to Chicago.
- 1909 Pauline Pottery closes.
1913 Norse Pottery closes.
RESOURCES: Art Pottery in Edgerton
Images of Pauline Pottery, American and Edgerton Art Clay Works, and Norse Pottery from the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Rock County Historical Society (Janesville), the Neville Public Museum of Brown County (Green Bay), and the Kenosha Public Museum are all available online in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database.
Pottery from Edgerton can also be viewed at the Edgerton Museum of Pottery and Porcelain, operated by the Edgerton Arts Council at the historic Edgerton Depot (a restoration of a log cabin that once stood on the Jacobus estate is also found here).
The major written source on the history of ceramics in Edgerton (and the primary source for the timeline here) is Maurice Montgomery’s book Edgerton’s History in Clay: Pauline Pottery to Pickard China (2001).
Ori-Anne Pagel’s book Pauline Pottery: A Pictorial Supplement to Edgerton’s History in Clay (2003) features images of Edgerton ceramics from the collections of the Edgerton Arts Council, the Rock County Historical Society, and numerous private collections.
The Wisconsin Pottery Association provides an overview of Edgerton pottery works as well as other sites of ceramic production in Wisconsin.
For Wisconsin’s connections to the Arts and Crafts Movement (including mentions of Jacobus and Frackelton), see Douglas Kendall, “Of Craftsman and Consumer: Wisconsin and the Arts and Crafts Movement, 1885-1940,” Wisconsin Academy Review 45:2 (1999).
RESOURCES: American Art Pottery
For an overview of the American Art Pottery movement, see From Our Native Clay, ed. Martin Eidelberg (American Ceramic Arts Society, 1987).
For a history of the movement’s foundations, see Alice Cooney Freylinghuysen, “Aesthetic Forms in Ceramic and Glass,” in In Pursuit of Beauty: Americans and the Aesthetic Movement (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986).
For more information on art pottery in the Midwest, including work by Jacobus and Frackelton, see Sharon Darling, Chicago Ceramics and Glass: An Illustrated History from 1871-1933 (Chicago Historical Society, 1979) and Marion John Nelson, Art Pottery of the Midwest (University of Minnesota, 1988).
For more on women’s role in art pottery, see “Proving That Pottery was Women’s Work,” New York Times, January 27, 2002 and Nancy E. Owen, Rookwood and the Industry of Art: Women, Culture, and Commerce, 1880-1913 (Ohio University Press, 2001).Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.