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Home > Publications > Historic New England Magazine > Winter 2000 > Art and Ideals: Art Pottery of Boston

Art and Ideals: Art Pottery of Boston

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Urn, 1890-1920. Hampshire Pottery. The piece is glazed in a green matte glaze similar to the one made popular by Grueby.

 

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Four medium-sized Grueby pots shown with a tall urn by Hampshire Pottery.c.1900. The strong, simple forms, muted tones, and textural interest of these ceramics exemplify the integrated aesthetic of much Arts and Crafts production.

 

The Arts and Crafts movement emerged in England in the 1870s, based on the reformist ideals of John Ruskin and William Morris. Proponents advocated a return to hand craftsmanship in all the decorative arts, not merely for aesthetic quality but also to further social and educational goals. In Boston, where numerous prominent people were committed to progressive thought and education, the movement found fertile ground. The Boston area became a major center for Arts and Crafts designers and production, notably in ceramics and book design. The art pottery had broad appeal, and in addition to being exhibited at Boston's Society for Arts and Crafts, was advertised in The Ladies' Home Journal and sold in department stores.

Chelsea Keramic Arts Works (CKAW) was established in Chelsea, Massachusetts, in 1872 by English immigrants James Robertson and his sons. One son, Hugh Cornwall Robertson, devoted his energy to recreating some of the exquisite glazes found on Chinese ceramics. He achieved considerable success with several glazes, but his continual experimentation ultimately exhausted the Works' resources and led to its bankruptcy in 1889. Subsequently, backed by patrons who admired his glaze expertise, Robertson established the successful Dedham Pottery.

Perhaps the best known producer of art pottery in the Boston area was the Grueby Faience Company, founded by William Grueby in 1894. Grueby soon gained recognition for his opaque glazes, notably a matte green glaze, whose smooth surface emphasized the pots' sculptural forms. He was joined by designer George Prentiss Kendrick, an architect and founding member of the Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston. Grueby ware is characterized by strong, simple shapes with tooled decoration of stylized leaf and flower forms. The company won international recognition, and the popularity of its matte green glazes caught on. Competing studios like Hampshire Pottery in Keene, New Hampshire, and Merrimac Pottery in Newburyport, Massachusetts, produced similarly glazed wares that gradually undermined Grueby's ability to make a profit, which led to the factory's demise in 1919.

Another pottery known for matte glazes was the Marblehead Pottery of Marblehead, Massachusetts, founded in 1904, originally as therapy for neurasthenics. By 1908, however, it was apparent that meeting the demands of the marketplace conflicted with therapeutic goals, so the pottery became a purely commercial endeavor.

The group that best embodied the marriage of craftsmanship with social goals that lay at the heart of the Arts and Crafts movement was the Saturday Evening Girls, also known as the Paul Revere Pottery. At the turn of the twentieth century in Boston's crowded North End, a group of young women, most of them daughters of Italian and Jewish immigrants, gathered on Saturday nights at the North Bennet Street Industrial School for a library reading group. Helen Osborne Storrow, a young Boston matron committed to the advancement of women, took an interest in the group. When, in 1907, the girls began making ceramics under the tutelage of Edith Guerrier, librarian and club leader, and her friend Edith Brown, an artist and illustrator, Mrs. Storrow stepped in with financial backing. The goal was to enable the girls to earn money for an education while working in a healthy and uplifting environment. This happy social experiment created lifetime bonds among the girls but was less successful as a business venture because the pottery's prices were higher than mass-produced wares.

In the postwar era, the Arts and Crafts aesthetic was gradually displaced by modernist styles, whose geometric forms and streamlined looks were well suited to mass production. Several of the pieces of art pottery owned by SPNEA were collected in the 1920s by William Sumner Appleton, SPNEA's founder, and Mrs. Storrow. Since the 1960s, art pottery has become highly desirable to collectors and museums.

-Adria Bernier, Assistant Registrar, Collections

 

 

Above Left: A selection of functional ware by the Saturday Evening Girls. c. 1915-25. The basic shapes are enlivened by charming decorations using animal and floral motifs in warm colors and smooth, dull-finished glazes. Above Right: Vases by the Chelsea Keramic Art Works. 1872-89. The bubbling and uneven application of glaze are evidence of Hugh Robertson's experiments to develop a sang de boeuf, or ox blood, glaze.

Art and Ideals: Art Pottery of Boston