Column: Rockwood, America’s most influential pottery

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Rookwood is considered by many one of the most powerful and influential potteries in America but it actually started life as a mere ‘hobby business.’

Rookwood is considered by many one of the most powerful and influential potteries in America but it actually started life as a mere ‘hobby business.’

American heiress, Maria Longworth Nicholas dabbled in the pottery business until, in 1883, she joined forces with a new production manager, William Watts Taylor, who transformed her hobby into a flying commercial success.

The first glaze to come out of the pottery was the ‘Standard’ glaze in 1884 developed by Laura Fry. It was a clear and glossy glaze with brown and beige tones. The vast majority of designs for this glaze were inspired by nature featuring flowers or leaves, although on rarer pieces portraits can be found.

Key to success was the focus on high quality from the very beginning; the company employed the most highly skilled artists, craftsmen and technicians.

Rookwood continued on the theme and success of the shiny ‘Standard’ glaze over the next two decades releasing variations of this glaze, notably ‘Sea Green’, ‘Iris’ and ‘Vellum’. ‘Sea Green’ (marked SG) as the name suggests was a clear glaze with a green tone while ‘Iris’ (marked W) was particularly striking as its clear colourless glaze allowed for incredibly sharp and realistic designs beneath. The ‘Vellum’ glaze (marked V) offered a misty appearance achieved by diffusing the painted pattern beneath the glaze.

In 1890, Rookwood won its first prize at an exhibition with a gold medal at the Exhibition of American Art Pottery in Philadelphia. It was to be the first of many prizes including gold medals at numerous International Exhibitions for both their artistic excellence and technical innovation.