The latest addition to the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database comes from the Pittsville Area Historical Society in central Wisconsin. In addition to a handmade guitar attributed to early Pittsville settler DeWitt C. Smith, the new content includes 30 objects selected from the more than 170 examples of Pittsville Pottery gifted to the Society by local resident and avid Pittsville Pottery collector Ed Arnold (1930-2008).
The Wisconsin Ceramic Corporation, better known as Pittsville Pottery, was established in 1931 by Father John Willitzer (1874-1946), a Catholic priest who wanted to provide work for local residents during the Great Depression. The pottery, which produced tiles and flowerpots from local red earthenware clay, struggled to stay in business and shut its doors in 1936. In 1938, it reopened under the direction of James Wilkins, a potter from Bristol, England who served as foreman of the art pottery department at Indiana’s Muncie Clay Products, and his son William Wilkins, a ceramic technician. Production under the Wilkinses centered on art pottery and promotional novelties for local businesses and included many of the shapes and glazes James Wilkins first developed for the Muncie pottery, including the mottled “peachskin” glaze of the canoe shown above.
A March 31, 2001 article from the Marshfield News-Herald (reproduced on the Wisconsin Pottery Association’s website) includes comments from Norman Tritz and Dorothy Faust, area residents who worked in the pottery. They recalled that working in the factory was peaceful, but it didn’t pay a lot–workers earned 35 cents an hour and a vase sold for around $6.50. Tritz also said that Willitzer did not approve of the “nude art” that was produced at the factory (such as the pair of vases shown above), but he never mentioned it.
After the Wilkinses left the pottery in 1941, quality suffered, and the company closed by 1943.
–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer