Category Archives: Ceramics

Now online: Hearthstone Historic House Museum

Fireplace at Hearthstone

Fireplace in Hearthstone parlor, with mantel carved by William Van Strattum and tiles painted by Frederika Crane.

Seven catalog entries for objects from Hearthstone Historic House Museum in Appleton are now online in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database. Built on a bluff overlooking the Fox River in 1881, Hearthstone’s primary claim to fame is that it was the first home in the world lit by hydroelectric power.

This Queen Anne-style brick home was designed by William Waters, an architect based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Much of the interior woodwork, including the bird’s-eye maple mantelpiece shown above, was the handiwork of a young Appleton woodworker named William Van Strattum. Other works by Van Strattum at Hearthstone include two marquetry tables and an intricately carved wall pocket, which he is said to have made for his wife LuLu Lansing in 1884.

Crane's signature

Crane's signature on mantel tiles.

Noted Green Bay artist Frederika Crane painted the porcelain tiles that surround the parlor fireplace. The woman illustrated on the tiles is thought to represent Evangeline, the central figure in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1847 poem of the same name. Hearthstone also holds several more typical examples of Crane’s work in china painting, most notably a set of twelve dinner plates decorated with birds.

Detail, wall pocket, William Van Stratum

The prominent initials "LL" on this birch and oak wall pocket suggest that William Van Stratum carved the work as a gift for his future wife, LuLu Lansing.

The collections documented at Hearthstone complement two other collections in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database: china painting by Frederika Crane from the Brown County Historical Society in Green Bay and other examples of Appleton’s late 19th century material culture from the History Museum at the Castle.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer


Now online: Upham Mansion, Marshfield

The Upham Manufacturing Company figured prominently in Marshfield's economy and landscape. Detail, bird's-eye view of Marshfield, 1891. Wisconsin Historical Society map collection WHi-12477.

Fourteen catalog entries for objects from the North Wood County Historical Society in Marshfield are now online in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database, including several examples of furniture produced by the Upham Manufacturing Company. Many of these pieces, including an extensive painted bedroom suite ornamented with resin moldings, were used by the Upham family and remain on view at the Upham Mansion, now an historic house museum operated by the NWCHS.

Detail of writing table on view in master bedroom, Upham Mansion, Marshfield.

The Upham name is central to the history of Marshfield. William Henry Upham came to Wisconsin from Westminster, Massachusetts in 1853. After serving in the Civil War and training at West Point, he settled permanently in the fledgling community of Marshfield in 1879, where he established a sawmill, furniture factory, general store, and the first local bank. In 1894, he was elected the 18th governor of Wisconsin. Upham’s role in the development of Marshfield is lauded in the Commemorative Biographical Record of the Upper Wisconsin Counties of Waupaca, Portage, Wood, Marathon, Lincoln, Oneida, Vilas, Langlade and Shawano (1898): “The citizens of to-day claim that Marshfield owes everything to Gov. Upham’s indomitable will power, enterprise and public-spiritedness, and that he may truthfully be called the founder of the town.”

Detail, "Chimes of Normandy" fretwork clock case, Fred Thuss, probably early 20th c.

The Upham Mansion is also home to many artifacts and archives from the broader community. One of the most intriguing examples of handicraft in the collection is an intricate fretwork clock case attributed to local resident Fred Thuss. The clock was created from a commercially published pattern known as “Chimes of Normandy.” The use of a scroll saw or jigsaw to create elaborate fretwork ornament for shelves, clocks, and picture frames was a popular pastime for both men and women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the Chimes of Normandy pattern appears to have been particularly popular among hobbyists. Not long after my visit to Marshfield, I found an identical clock in the collection of the Sheboygan County Historical Society. A Google search reveals that the pattern is still on the market today. The best-known version of the Chimes of Normandy is now in the collection of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York. In 1937, a young woman in Texas named Ernestine Guerrero used wood from federal food aid boxes her family received during the Depression to create a unique thank-you gift for President Roosevelt.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer

Now online: Pittsville Area Historical Society

Canoe with flower frog in cobalt blue drip over orange "peachskin" glaze. Collection of the Pittsville Area Historical Society.

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.

Pair of vases with nudes in rose and aqua matte glaze. Collection of the Pittsville Area Historical Society.

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.

Octagonal sugar bowl and creamer. The pitcher's "dripless spout," patented in 1933, appears in many Pittsville Pottery products. Collection of the Pittsville Area Historical Society.

After the Wilkinses left the pottery in 1941, quality suffered, and the company closed by 1943.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer

Lots of updates

In the past few months, I’ve taken the time to revisit some earlier database entries and update them with expanded historical information, including links to historic photos and biographical sketches found in other digital collections from Wisconsin libraries and historical societies. This list is a recap of recent updates.

The Blair and Persons building at 534 N. Water Street in Milwaukee. From Milwaukee Public Library.

Ironstone transferware pottery produced in Staffordshire and imported to Milwaukee and Madison (from a private collection). The majority of these examples were manufactured by Joseph Clementson of Stoke-on-Trent and imported to Milwaukee by crockery and glassware dealer Franklin J. Blair. Born in Massachusetts in 1815, Blair headed west, first to Cleveland, Ohio and then in 1843 to Milwaukee. In 1856, he entered a business partnership with his shop clerk, Edmond Reed Persons.

Coin silver spoons made and/or marked by silversmiths and jewelers throughout southern Wisconsin in the 1840s-1860s (also from a private collection). It is difficult to determine whether these spoons were actually produced in Wisconsin or whether the sellers acquired blanks created elsewhere and then added engravings and their marks to sell to local customers. Silversmiths and jewelers who now have biographical information added to the database include Newell Matson, Joseph R. Treat, and Abner Kirby of Milwaukee, A. B. Van Cott of Milwaukee and Racine, Erastus Cook of Madison, Stephen C. Spaulding of Janesville, and Henry N. Sherman of Beloit. I have yet to turn up any information about R. P. Hicks of Platteville or the Milwaukee partnership of Rood, Goodrich, and Vosburg.

Jeweler and businessman Abner Kirby was elected mayor of Milwaukee in 1864. From "Biographical sketches of the mayors of the City of Milwaukee" via Milwaukee Public Library.

–Tom Wilson, a connoisseur of the work of Milwaukee blacksmith Cyril Colnik, contacted me to share some information about the Colnik collection at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum, including a story from Colnik’s daughter Gretchen that her father made an unusual coconut shell box as a gift for her 12th birthday in 1906.

–While researching the collections from the Langlade County Historical Society in Antigo, I stumbled across an article from the local newspaper, dated 1933, that described a loan to the society of an “historic crucifix” attributed to Paul Ducharme, a French Canadian trader who came to the Green Bay area in 1794. The crucifix remains in the society’s collections, hanging on the wall of the DeLeglise cabin. Langlade County Historical Society president Joe Hermolin photographed it for me so I could add this important artifact to the database without making the long return trip north to Antigo.

Crazy quilt detail: possibly First Lady Catherine Harrison. Chippewa Valley Museum object #1514-0003-1997.

–The Handmade Meaning exhibit necessitated some in-depth research to find out more about the women behind the crafts we exhibited. Students from last spring’s exhibitions seminar at UW-Madison were a great help, particularly Susan Bostian Young and Breanna Norton, who both rolled up their sleeves and dug into census records and other genealogy resources. Susan contributed a great blog post examining the story behind a redwork quilt from the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, which we were unable to include in the exhibit due to condition issues. I also recruited Lucy Traverse, a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History at UW-Madison specializing in 19th century visual culture, to help identify the figures embroidered on a crazy quilt from the Chippewa Valley Museum in Eau Claire. Lucy suggested that the blue-eyed young woman in the bottom right corner block resembled the popular singer and entertainer Lillian Russell, while the middle-aged woman depicted in profile near the lower left was likely Caroline Harrison, who, as wife of President Benjamin Harrison, would have been the First Lady around the time this quilt was made.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.

Visit to Marshfield and Pittsville

I’ve worked on this project for more than four years and added over 1,000 artifacts to the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database, but it seems like I’ve still only scratched the surface of Wisconsin’s material past. I’m always happily surprised when I discover artifacts from a maker or manufacturer I haven’t documented before.

One of these happy occurrences came in Lake Geneva last fall at the annual statewide Local History and Historic Preservation Conference. Kim Krueger of the North Wood County Historical Society in Marshfield approached me after my presentation about Wisconsin Heritage Online. She was looking for a conservator who could help preserve a catalog from a local manufacturer. I couldn’t help much with the conservation question, but my ears perked up when I heard more about the catalog–it was from the Upham Manufacturing Company, a furniture producer in Marshfield around the turn of the 20th century. But the catalog wasn’t the only artifact from the company in the Society’s collections, Kim said. Their house museum, the Upham Mansion, still contains many of its original furnishings, including a large number of pieces made in the factory established by William Henry Upham.

I made plans to visit the Upham Mansion as soon as I could. At some point during the back-and-forth of planning emails, another serendipitous connection came up. A volunteer at the Upham Mansion, Chris Buchanan, is also the president of the Pittsville Area Historical Society, less than 20 miles south of Marshfield. Pittsville was once home to the Wisconsin Ceramics Corporation, better known as Pittsville Pottery, and the local historical society had recently received a donation of more than 100 works from the pottery assembled by a local collector. Did I want to add the pottery to the database too? Of course I did!

After spending two days in central Wisconsin last week, I now have lots of photos to process and should have the Upham furniture and Pittsville pottery–plus several other interesting artifacts–added to the database in the next several weeks.

–Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer

New online exhibit spotlights Pauline Pottery’s women artists

The new digital exhibit "Behind the Brush: The Women of the Pauline Pottery" explores the stories of the women behind the success of the Pauline Pottery, an Edgerton, Wisconsin-based art pottery studio.

The digital exhibition “Behind the Brush: The Women of the Pauline Pottery” examines the work and lives of six women who worked for the Pauline Pottery in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Laura Fry, Mae Johnson Wilt, Eugenie Hutchinson, Lulu Devereaux Dixon, Marie Brastad, and of course, the company’s founder, Pauline Jacobus. Most of the works featured come from collections documented in the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database, including the Kenosha Public Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Neville Public Museum of Brown County, the Rock County Historical Society,  the Wisconsin Historical Museum, and the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. Additional images were provided by Pauline Pottery authority Ori-Anne Pagel of the Wisconsin Pottery Association.

Credit for much of the writing and research for the exhibit goes to Laura Houston, an undergraduate in the History Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who worked with me this summer on an internship sponsored by the Chipstone Foundation and the UW’s Material Culture Program.

I created the exhibit in part as an experiment in the use of Pachyderm, an open-source, web-based multimedia authoring tool developed by the New Media Consortium. It was a little tricky to use–there’s no WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) interface, so it took a lot of back-and-forth between the web form and the preview pages to make sure things were turning out the way I wanted. But there’s no programming knowledge needed and I think the results look pretty slick. I’m hoping to use Pachyderm again in the future as a way to highlight other groups of objects in the database.

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.

Now Online: Private Collections part 2

Ironstone plate manufactured by Joseph Clementson, Stoke-on-Trent, England and imported to Milwaukee by F. J. Blair, ca. 1840-1850.

Two more private collections posted recently…

The first is a large group from a private collector who’s kept an eye out for Wisconsin-related items for decades. A brief list gives a sense of the scope of just the small part of the collection that I photographed: earthenware from a Waukesha County pottery, stoneware from potteries in Wautoma, Portage, and Menasha, and marked coin silver spoons made by silversmiths in Milwaukee, Madison, Beloit, Janesville, and Platteville.

In addition to these important examples of Wisconsin pottery and metalwork, the collection also includes an intriguing group of flow-blue ironstone dishware. Although not made in Wisconsin, they reveal important evidence of life in the early days of settlement and statehood. Ceramics decorated with blue transfer-printed chinoiserie motifs were the height of middle-class fashion in Britain and America in the mid-nineteenth century. Staffordshire potters such as Joseph Clementson, who manufactured the plate shown above, shipped their wares to American distributors like F. J. Blair of Milwaukee.

Three miniature earthenware posnets (three-legged cooking pots) attributed to August Henschel, Colgate, Waukesha County, ca. 1880-1900.

Coin silver spoon, R. P. Hicks, Platteville, Grant County. Engraved with the initials "MDR"

Detail of crochet and beadwork on stockings made by Elizabeth Pauline Ebert, Menomonee Falls, Waukesha County, 1878-1879.

Another small collection was brought to my attention after my presentation at the Delafield Antique Show last spring. A unique group of handknit stockings embellished with delicate crochet and beadwork were gifted to the current owner by the granddaughter of the maker, Elizabeth Ebert. Ebert was born in Germany and came to Wisconsin around 1847, writing in her diary that she made the stockings because she wanted to look beautiful in her new country, America.

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.