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Ceramics Collector

Ceramics and their journeys in spotlight at 2015 Winterthur conference

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Tuesday, 21 April 2015 14:57
This porcelain soup plate, decorated with the arms of Ker with Martin in pretence, was made in China around 1780-90. Part of the gift of Leo A. and Doris C. Hodroff to Winterthur. Image courtesy of Winterthur
WINTERTHUR, Del. – Today we have worldwide trade in electronics, but in the past, the focus was on the worldwide trade in fashionable ceramics. No one gives a second thought to the long journey his flat screen television made from factory to living room. But imagine the perilous 18th century journey on the high seas that George Washington’s Chinese Export porcelain survived between its source half way around the world and the president’s table.

The annual Winterthur Ceramics Conference at the celebrated museum in Delaware is an extremely valuable educational resource for collectors and scholars alike. The 2015 event embraced the world trade theme: “This year’s conference focuses on ceramics that were marketed internationally – from China to the United States to Mexico and beyond. Upon arrival, some of these world-traveling vessels and dishes, in turn, inspired the creation of new wares.”

Held April 23-24, the conference presents two days of lectures by specialists from Winterthur and outside institutions as well as hands-on workshops where everyone has a chance to examine objects up close. In between, participants can meet and put questions directly to the experts and share information with other collectors in a convivial setting – in other words, networking for ceramics enthusiasts.

In any discussion of international trade, the conversation usually begins with Chinese Export porcelain; the wares had immense visual appeal and technological superiority. As the conference objective notes, their popularity with the public – from Royals to the merchant class – inspired firms in England, Europe, and the Americas to replicate and innovate; every pottery attempted to duplicate the strong white fabric and delicate designs of Asian wares.

English porcelain manufacturers competed for sales to the new United States. Note the American shield on the border of a cup and saucer shown below, which were made at the Chamberlain Worcester Factory, 1800-1810. (Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Hohn Mayer. Image courtesy of Winterthur)

George Washington enters the conversation because, whether setting the table in New York, Philadelphia, or Mount Vernon, the founding father did not – indeed could not, at that time – “buy American.” He used Chinese Export porcelain for formal dinners and also bought English salt-glaze stoneware, creamware, and porcelain, as well as French porcelain from Sevres and other firms. Take a tour of the family tastes in the fascinating study George Washington’s Chinaware by Susan Gray Detweiler. Or visit the Museum at Mount Vernon to view Martha’s “tea china” decorated in faraway Canton with the names of the first states of the union.

At the conference, Margaret K. Hofer, curator of decorative arts at the New-York Historical Society, will present new information in her lecture, “George Washington Sipped Here: Chinese Export Porcelain in New York.” In an interview with Auction Central News, she explained, “The reference to George Washington in my title refers to the tendency of people to venerate objects touched by history and fame, and how that has affected what has been saved and passed down – what we have to work with today as scholars.”

She continued, “One thread to my talk is just looking at a chronology of Chinese Export wares used in New York, starting back in the 17th century with a real focus around the beginnings of direct trade in 1784. I discuss particularly the Society of the Cincinnati wares and what the merchant class was buying for themselves. And I’ll definitely focus on the Arms of New York, the pieces that were so plentiful – and then on variations of them that have personalized monograms and slightly later the variations with blue enamel and gilt. I’ll show a couple pieces with real armorials, but there’s definitely not much in the American context.”

In spite of what we would consider snail’s-pace communications, buyers would special order tableware with designated decorations such as the insignia of the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization founded in 1783 by officers who fought in the Revolutionary War. Washington was the president general, and Gen. Harry “Light-Horse” Lee purchased an extensive insignia service for him in New York, pieces from which still can be seen at Mount Vernon.

Daniel and Serga Nadle's gift of Chinese Export porcelain to Winterthur included this soup plate bearing arms of Wight, circa 1810. (Image courtesy of Winterthur)


Elsewhere in her talk, Hofer noted, ”I’ve tried to cast a wide net to examine what New Yorkers were buying and also what it meant to them. One of the things I’ll be doing is trying to provide a broader context, so I have a lot of portraits of the owners, images of their homes, in some cases furnishings as well – to try and set it in an environment and not just consider it abstractly. Chinese Export had a real exoticism that English wares did not.”

Not everyone ordered special services, most would select patterns from a local merchant who handled imported china. The New-York Historical Society has papers (1771-1848) connected to Frederick Rhinelander, who with his brothers sold crockery and glassware. Hofer said, “He was a merchant around the time of the Revolution, who was importing a lot of Chinese Export from London, and they’re really wonderful descriptions of what he was getting and the huge quantity that was available. It’s clear that he was buying a lot for stock, and he was shipping large quantities to other smaller merchants around the region in Connecticut and New Jersey and up the Hudson.”

Leslie Grigsby, Winterthur senior curator of ceramics, will discuss floral ornaments on ceramic vases, such as those on the porcelain jar below, made by the Chamberlain Worcester Factory in England, 1815-20. (Image courtesy of Winterthur)

Porcelain was so valuable that historians also see early advertisements for china menders, who could repair cherished pieces. A related talk on the conference schedule is “Having It our Way! Western Ornamental Tastes Expressed on Chinese Armorial Porcelain” by Angela Howard, director of the English firm Heirloom & Howard in Wiltshire, which specializes in armorial antiques. Howard will also lead the workshop “A Closer Look at Armorial Porcelain,” where conference-goers will have a chance to handle examples.

Another workshop – “What a Dish! Ceramics Use in the Mid-Atlantic Region, 1700-1850,” by Catharine Dann Roeber, ceramics specialist and development officer at Winterthur – will give participants hands-on experience with imported ceramics from archaeological digs on the East Coast. She explained, “I’m interested in the history of the Mid-Atlantic culture. I thought it would be fun to have a workshop where we brought in some examples of ceramics from a variety of time periods and a variety of ceramic types, which had either been documented archaeologically or through written documentation or had great provenance to families or individuals.”

"Printed Ceramics from Staffordshire to America," the subject of Curator Emerita Pat Halfpenny's lecture, will include the English pearlware wine cooler shown below, made by John Rogers & Son, 1818-31. Visitors to Winterthur can view "Transferware: A Story of Pattern and Color" in the galleries. (Image courtesy of Winterthur)


“The things that I’m using relate to materials that were excavated in some of the sites in downtown Philadelphia,” said Roeber. “I tried to get a mix, so I have American earthenwares, English stoneware, German stoneware, English earthenwares, and Chinese Export porcelains – a couple Continental porcelains as well. It’s an up-close experience. I did select one of the Society of the Cincinnati Washington porcelains because he did use those in Philadelphia.“

Breaking new ground at the conference will be two lectures by Margaret E. Connors McQuade, assistant director and curator of decorative arts at the Hispanic Society of America in New York City. Even for collectors familiar with European and Asian imports, the ceramics made in and exported from the Spanish colonies remains an unexplored field. The first talk covers “Talavera Poblana: The Origins and Production of Tin-Glazed Earthenware in Mexico,” a subject that McQuade addressed in a 1999 exhibition catalog.

This burnished earthenware vase made in Tonala, Mexico, 1675-1699, has added 18th century ormulu mounts. (Image courtesy of the Hispanic Society of America)

In a recent interview, she said, “The ware I’m going to be talking about is the tin-glazed ware produced primarily in Puebla, which is not far from Mexico City. It started being produced very early, first in Mexico City, then in Puebla. By 1537, we have documentation that there were Spanish potters setting up workshops, so very early on – primarily to supply European-style ware for the Spaniards who were settling in Mexico. The production became so important, not just for that area but also for all the Spanish colonies that includes the Southwest across to Florida. Even on the islands off Georgia, we’ve found fragments of this type of pottery in the 17th century.”

This large tin-glazed earthenware jar made in Puebla, Mexico, circa 1650, is part of the Hispanic Society's collection. The mark on the lower section "he" is attributed to Damian Hernandez, who was a master potter and one of the founders of the potter's guild established in 1653. (Image courtesy of the Hispanic Society of America)

She emphasized that the Mexican earthenware was influenced by – but should not be confused with – similar dishes made in Spain: “When Spanish potters arrived in the New World, they brought the potter’s wheel, the tin and lead glaze, as well as the updraft kiln which allowed them to fire at a higher temperature and achieve the glaze that was necessary. Sometimes people who are not familiar with the ware from Mexico confuse it with European ware. Because most of the ware produced in this part of the world is in fragments, archaeologists have been talking about it for a long time. We know from archaeological evidence that it was widely distributed and we know that the ware traveled throughout the Spanish territories.”

In a second talk, McQuade will address “Noble Tastes for Bucaros de Indias: Mexican and Chilean Pottery from the Colonial Period.” The curator explained, “I’m doing another lecture on the burnished pottery that came out of Mexico in the Colonial Period. While the tin-glazed earthenware became a very important production in the Americas, the burnished pottery was exported in large part to Europe, where it entered noble collections. I walk in two worlds – one is for people who focus on ceramics as a medium, the other for people who study Spanish Colonial art and decorative arts. The people who focus on European and world ceramics are not as familiar with either of these wares, while they are an important part of Spanish Colonial art history.”

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 April 2015 09:56

Ceramics Collector: Hans Coper, master of form and volume

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Monday, 06 April 2015 14:15
A carefully chosen selection of significant works by Hans Coper was assembled by influential American collectors Betty Lee and Aaron Stern. The Phillips New York sale of the collection in late 2013 established a new price scale for the artist’s designs. In this grouping of vases, the ovoid form with disc top at right, made about 1969, brought $100,000. Phillips image

NEW YORK – Hans Coper (1920-1981) was a transformative genius in the ceramics world, so it is not surprising that his impressive body of work has captured the attention of both art historians and collectors. Although the medium was clay, his vision transcended the material and became fully integrated into the world of contemporary design during the decades in which he created his sculptural vessels.

Coper had no background in ceramics when he fled Nazi Germany for England in 1939. After being interned in Canada for two years, he spent the remainder of the war serving in Britain in a noncombatant role. At the end of the conflict, he needed work and – in a watershed moment – was hired by skilled potter Lucie Rie (1902-1995), who had left Austria for England in 1938. Coper proved to have remarkable natural abilities, both in pottery mechanics, such as throwing clay on the wheel, and also in ceramic design where he created his own vocabulary of forms.

Rie and Coper worked together for a dozen years, signing some pieces jointly – and they remained friends for the duration of his life. The Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University, which owns works by both potters, notes in a joint biography: “At the same time Rie’s and Coper’s personal styles stared to diverge: While hers remained functional in focus, his became increasingly sculptural in ambition. Eventually, in 1958, Coper decided to set up his own studio … ” Also while Rie never taught formally, Coper began to teach in London in the 1960s, first at the Camberwell School of Arts and later at the Royal College of Art.

In 1958, Coper established his own studio at Hammersmith in London. In 1960, he executed an ambitious architectural commission for a wall mural at the Swinton Community School, Mexborough, South Yorkshire. While many wall murals are paintings, Coper’s design used inserted circular stoneware forms varying in size, glaze color and surface texture. The mural project set a record for the artist’s work when it sold on Sept. 27, 2011 at Phillips London “Design” sale for 181,250 pounds (est. 50,000-70,000 pounds), almost $282,000.

Never to be sold, his best-known creation is an array of six massive candlesticks which stand like abstract caryatids on either side of the High Altar at Coventry Cathedral in England. In November 1940 during World War II, the 14th-15th century St. Michael’s Church in Coventry was severely damaged by incendiary bombs; only outside walls and the tower spire were left standing. The cornerstone for a new cathedral was laid in 1956 by Queen Elizabeth II, and many important artists of the day contributed elements such as stained glass and sculpture to the interior. The completed new church standing by the ruins of the old was consecrated in 1962. Coper’s 7-foot-high candlesticks were created using thrown circular sections joined by metal supports. The trio on each side is composed of a darker center pillar flanked by banded and textured columns of lighter coloration.

Whether the revered object is an ancient Greek black-figure vase or Coper’s studio pottery, the clay has been shaped into utilitarian forms. But these works are no longer displayed filled with wine or flowers, because attention has shifted from the vessels’ function to their superb design and decoration. The Coventry candlesticks are deeply moving sculptures that bring both light and a sense of enlightenment to their altar setting. Such monumental works have only whetted the desire of collectors to own examples of Coper’s more easily possessed small scale constructions.

Han Coper’s life was cut short by illness in 1981, which makes collectors even more eager to seek out his work from the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. Much of the artist’s best work has been sold at Phillips in their New York and London “Design” sales over the last 10 years. Ceramics specialist Ben Williams is the firm’s expert on the artist and oversaw the New York auction of the Betty Lee and Aaron Stern Collection in December 2013, which included many carefully selected examples of Coper’s stoneware.

In an interview with ACN, he noted, “Phillips is in a position where they get offered the best in the market. The problem is – for Coper especially – that there’s not a lot of work out there. When a great collection like the Sterns’ comes up, people realize that it’s an opportunity. Even people who haven’t bought a pot in years are back in the market because they want something form that great collection. That’s when the really big jumps in price happen.”

The catalog of the Stern Collection – available online – includes stunning photos of Coper’s work as it was displayed by the collecting couple. Williams said, “Betty Lee is someone I’ve known for over 20 years. She had a really remarkable collection, so that was probably for me the pinnacle of my auction career. I said to her, rather than do an auction catalog that is a stock studio style, let’s mix it up and do some vistas to illustrate what you created in your home.”

Coper’s work long ago made the transition from ceramics sales to multimedia design sales. The same collectors who might pay millions for a Francis Bacon painting are bidding on this 20th century stoneware, so individual examples that brought four or five figures less than a decade ago, now regularly fetch six figures. As Williams put it, “We would be selling the modernist pots in amongst modernist furniture. We gave it a completely new audience and it just really took off.

“Most really great artists were being influenced by other things that were going on around them outside of clay,” he continued. “Coper, in a way, has come full circle. When he started out, he was always considered to be an artist. He was hanging out with other artists in many different media, all of those commissions that were being done around the time of Coventry Cathedral. The people who were buying that work from him in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s – all the way through really – they were people who had art on the walls and didn’t consider themselves ceramic collectors, they were collectors of fine modern art.”

Ben Williams also has seen a broadening of the market to include all of Coper’s output: “When I started working in the auctions in the early 1990s, at that point the most valuable pieces – apart from one or two very large scale works – were the late ones, the Cycladic pots. They were seen as the final statement of his career – but some of his early work is incredibly powerful as well. As a younger man, he was a very powerful thrower, and he was able to make some extraordinarily large pieces. There is more equality now in price between the best of the early work and the best of the late Cycladic pots.” As the name indicates, Coper was strongly influenced by ancient artifacts, most notably the art of the Cycladic island culture, which flourished in the Aegean around 3200-2000 B.C.

In the Stern catalog, Hans Coper is quoted as saying, “My concern is with extracting essence rather than with experiment and exploration.” Garth Clark, ceramics expert and author of many books in the field, recently talked about his admiration for Coper’s subtle artistry: “He started making pretty conventional things and then eventually his work began to change. He would play with volumes; he would flatten his pots. He would compress the volume, and it created a kind of visual illusion. Also, in his later work, he created beautiful constructions and profiles.”

Clark continued, “Right at the end, he made the Cycladic pieces. In those pots, you have these exquisite shapes and outlines – extraordinary silhouettes. And the pot itself again is not fully round so it moves them between a 2-D world and a 3-D world. That gave a very special quality to his work. No artist at the time was doing that flattening of the volume, so that was very rare.”


References on the artist include the still-available earlier study Hans Coper by Tony Birks and Modern Pots: Hans Coper, Lucie Rie and Their Contemporaries, The Lisa Sainsbury Collection by Cyril Frankel (University of East Anglia 2006).

Last December, a large stoneware goblet, 15 7/8 inches high, sold for $165,500 at Phillips New York (est. $60,000-$90,000). The work was once owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum and had been part of a traveling exhibition of Coper’s ceramics. Phillips image Coper’s rare early works were at times decorated with simple abstract designs. Created not long after he began making pottery, this 1953 globular stoneware pot covered with dark manganese glaze brought $197,000 (est. $30,000-$40,000) in the sale of the Stern Collection. Phillips image The Stern Collection included many ‘Spade’ vases featuring flattened rectangular forms elevated on a circular base. This massive example, 16 inches high, brought $112,500 in 2013. Phillips image A rare white ‘Cycladic’ bud form vase with wings, 1975, sold for $31,250 in a 2011 Design Masters sale at Phillips. Phillips image A 1974 ‘Cycladic’ vase covered with smooth black glaze brought $22,500 in the Stern Collection sale. Phillips image
Last Updated on Monday, 06 April 2015 14:43

Roseville for the modern age: the Monsen-Baer Collection

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Friday, 06 March 2015 13:38

The holy grail of modernist Roseville is the rare ‘Tank’ vase from the Futura line introduced in the 1920s. Monsen used the streamlined form as the cover illustration for his first book on the pottery. The rare design became the top lot of the March auction, selling for $13,500 (est. $8,000-$10,000). Humler & Nolan image

CINCINNATI – The extensive Roseville collection of Randy Monsen and Rodney Baer offered at a Humler & Nolan auction on Saturday, March 7, was far more than your grandmother’s floral vases. The very fact that everyone’s grandmother had a couple of Roseville pieces reflects the company’s long history spanning six decades. The incredible variety of those pieces can be attributed to the Ohio factory’s bountiful output and willingness to update and experiment with ever-changing styles.

The pottery’s name came from Roseville, Ohio, where operations began in 1890, a name kept when the firm moved to the nearby ceramics center of Zanesville in 1898. The first lines were designed to compete with other well-known Ohio art potteries such as Rookwood and Weller. But with a production that continued until 1953, Roseville absorbed influences from the Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Moderne and Streamline styles while it continued to satisfy grandma’s desire to see her favorite flowers on a pretty vase.

Like every serious gathering of Roseville, the 800 examples offered in the auction reflect the collectors’ own focus on their personal favorites among the company’s myriad lines. In an interview with Auction Central News, Riley Humler said, “Randy Momsen was an enthusiast to the nth degree. There are a few early pieces, but primarily we’re talking about pieces made in the 1930s and 1940s.

“Particularly of interest, he got into buying experimental pieces that were created to show but never put into production, so there are probably 30 experimental pieces that are relatively unique. He was also very interested in trial glaze pieces where they would take a standard line and use different color combinations to get a sense of what they might look like. So these are things that are fun to see because the colors are not what you expect.”

Humler continued, “Monsen really loved Roseville and he really loved the things he wrote about. He ended up writing two books, and there was a third book being written when he passed away. Each book covered half a dozen glaze lines; the first one primarily dealt with Futura, which is a very modern Art Deco line from Roseville.

If you’re interested in one of those particular lines he wrote about, the books are a great opportunity to study them.”

The publications referred to are the Collectors’ Compendium of Roseville Pottery by Randall B. Monsen. Volume 1 covers the Futura, Faline, Earlam, Artcraft, Cosmos and Artware lines; Volume 2 discusses the Baneda, Cremona, Ferella, Laurel, Montacello, and Wincraft series. For anyone who thinks of Roseville in terms of floral favorites like Magnolia, Iris, and Jonquil, Futura is the line that defies all expectations – and brings some of the highest prices in the pottery’s production.

The streamlined “Tank” shape and “Chinese Bronze” shapes may bring bids in the five-figure range, but there are dozens of other geometric forms with startling two-tone glazes. At the line’s introduction, Roseville advertised: “This delightful new pattern by Roseville – Futura – brings into your home the charm and the exhilarating tang of the modern.” Another promotion extolled “… the modernistic beauty of Futura … the dashing lines … the fearless spirit that Roseville craftsmen have so artfully given them.”

Before the sale, Humler acknowledged that this auction will establish values for the categories on offer: “There are obviously flare-ups of interest in certain kinds of things. A lot of Roseville is off considerably from what it was eight or nine years ago, but the nice thing about this collection is that there are some rarities here, some really interesting pieces. There are lines you see on a regular basis, but even there we’ve tried to include examples that are uncommon, large examples, which don’t show up a lot. It’s a pretty clean group as well.”

He concluded, “This is a significant sale of significant pieces and we’re tickled to death to have it. The breadth of it and the complexity of some of the pieces, you won’t have the opportunity to see things like this ever again. Collectors are looking for rarity; that seems to be the way things are trending today. If you like Roseville or you’re even curious about it, this is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity.”

After the auction, Humler said, “We are pleased with the sale for several reasons. We had a good group of bidders and prices for Roseville were better than they have been for a bit.” He noted that four of the top five prices were paid for pieces in the Futura line: the “Tank” vase $13,500; the “Chinese Bronze" vase $10,000; a three-piece "Flying Saucer" set $8,250; and a "Jukebox" vase $4,300. Rounding out the group was an experimental vase with Mackintosh roses sold for $5,000. Colleague Mark Mussio added, “I believe provenance was the key. People were excited by the prospect of owning a piece from this amazing collection.”

A note for the future: Randy Monsen was especially interested in the design work of Frank Ferrell who worked for a number of potteries over the years and ended up at Roseville. The designer was responsible for some of Roseville’s most stylish Art Deco pieces, and the reference books mentioned above reflect Monsen’s research on Ferrell. Monsen and Baer also purchased works by the designer from his time at the Weller and Peters and Reed potteries, and those will be offered during the Humler & Nolan Keramics 2015 session on June 6.

Click here to view the fully illustrated catalog for this sale, complete with prices realized.



The holy grail of modernist Roseville is the rare ‘Tank’ vase from the Futura line introduced in the 1920s. Monsen used the streamlined form as the cover illustration for his first book on the pottery. The rare design became the top lot of the March auction, selling for $13,500 (est. $8,000-$10,000). Humler & Nolan image


The 12-inch Chinese Bronze vase appears in a period advertisement for Roseville Pottery, yet only a handful now exist. This rare Futura form in a shaded yellow glaze sold for $10,000. Humler & Nolan image

The Monsen-Baer Collection included many experimental pieces made at the factory. This Morning Glory glaze trial vase in a double-handle amphora shape has yellow blossoms on one side and white blue tinted blossoms on the reverse – final price $2,100 (est. $400-$600). Humler & Nolan image

The Imperial II line was characterized by inventive art pottery shapes covered in impressive glazes. This monumental floor vase in excellent original condition retains the Roseville foil label on the base and brought $3,100 in the March sale. Humler & Nolan image

Frank H. Barks was the Roseville designer responsible for many of the sleek nudes in the Silhouette line. This figure in a matte rose glaze may have been a trial piece or a one-off creation preserved by the designer’s family. It sold  for $1,700 in the Monser-Baer auction. Humler & Nolan image

The Futura line featured a variety of unusual shapes and glazes, influenced by newly popular Art Deco styles. This 9-inch Chinese Pillow vase in a dark cherry glaze brought $1,100 in a Humler & Nolan sale last fall. Humler & Nolan image

Last Updated on Thursday, 12 March 2015 13:47

Ceramics Collector: Stars in alignment at University City

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Monday, 26 January 2015 14:53

This 4-inch vase with a crystalline floral glaze and carved neck was made by Adelaide Alsop Robineau. Marked with her logo and dated 1919, the work brought $35,600 with premium at Treadway Toomey Auctions in December. Treadway Toomey Auctions image

ST. LOUIS – When a single art pottery vase by Frederick Hurten Rhead was sold in April by John Moran Auctioneers for a record-breaking $570,000, collector attention again focused on the University City pottery and porcelain works. Production at the studios lasted only a few years and never achieved commercial success. Yet, for one shining moment, the project united the talents of three luminaries of the ceramics world – the British-born Rhead, America’s premier woman potter Adele Alsop Robineau, and French porcelain master Taxile Doat.

Around the turn of the 20th century in St. Louis, wheeler-dealer businessman E.G. Lewis was constantly on the lookout for new commercial opportunities, although he had a history of not finishing what he started. No doubt encouraged by his wife, Mabel, he got into the specialty magazines-for-women field. By the time of the famous Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904, he had purchased 85 acres for residential real estate development and built his publishing headquarters there. University City, where he invested, still exists as a separately governed town within St. Louis and the beautiful Woman’s Magazine Building is now its City Hall.

Women’s rights and women’s education were the viral topics of the day. Seizing the moment, Lewis set up what he called the American Woman’s League and conceived a grandiose scheme to establish a university curriculum of correspondence courses to sell to his magazine subscribers. He began by hiring well-known teachers for an Art Academy to offer instruction in drawing, painting, sculpture, and above all ceramics. The time between Lewis’ proposal of the idea in 1909 and the last kiln firing in 1914 was short, but the pottery and porcelain made by the faculty in that brief period remains as a breathtaking tribute to a dream that was never quite realized.

Collectors face two difficulties in their study of University City’s output. Little of the output of the ceramic studios was offered for sale, and there is no distinct, easily recognizable unifying style. Fortunately, the entire complex story of Lewis and his educational venture is explored in the excellent catalog University City Ceramics: Art Pottery of the American Woman’s League by David Conradsen, curator of decorative arts, St. Louis Art Museum, and Ellen Paul Denker, written to accompany a 2004 exhibition.

An archival photo reprinted in the catalog documents Lewis’s initial success in staffing the Art Academy ceramics division with internationally recognized talent. The occasion was the first kiln firing at University City in April 1910; the production is displayed on tables in the front. At center stands Adelaide Alsop Robineau (1865-1929), one of the most influential American ceramists of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Based in Syracuse, New York, she was a brilliant studio potter devoted to creativity not commerce. In 1899 with her husband, Samuel, she had founded the magazine Keramic Studio, which explored ceramic manufacture and decoration.

Standing on the right in the 1910 photo is Taxile Doat (1851-1939), the venerable French master with a snowy beard, who arrived in St. Louis from France in 1909 to head the ceramics department at University City, where he remained until its closure in 1914. While working in porcelain at Sevres, he had specialized in delicate pate-sur-pate decoration using classical themes, but he also experimented in his private studio with Japanese forms and glazes. The Robineaus had published a translation of Doat’s book on porcelain technique, Grand Feu Ceramics, which had influenced Adelaide to become an expert in that medium.

At left in the photo is Frederick Hurten Rhead (1880-1942), who arrived at University City to write the correspondence course in pottery making and to teach advanced students, while he made exquisite works of his own, which would further the reputation of the school. Born and trained in England, Rhead and his wife, Agnes, had been in the United States since 1902; he had worked in many of the Ohio potteries and eventually continued his career in California after leaving St. Louis in 1911. He was already well-known to American potters through his articles in Keramic Studio.

The St. Louis Art Museum is fortunate to retain works by all three of these notable University City ceramists in its permanent collection and examples can be viewed online at In an interview with ACN, curator David Conradsen noted, “Doat had published the secret of how to make porcelain, which was the province of national manufactories like Sevres. Businessman E.G. Lewis seized on the idea of hiring Robineau and Doat. If she can teach herself how to make porcelain using this formula as published by Doat, any American woman can do it. And then he added Rhead for good measure, an artist who was published almost weekly in Keramics Studio.

“He brought this extraordinary group of talent to University City, and it’s unfortunate that they didn’t have a longer run. But what we’re left with are these extraordinary objects and the story of these fascinating individuals. There’s the problem of what Lewis said he was doing and what he actually did. He talked big, but I do think he was kind of a visionary. He just had too many balls in the air and he never stuck with anything long enough to see it succeed. It’s easy to second guess Lewis but when you look at the objects, they speak for themselves. The ceramics are his lasting legacy.”

Each of the three artists under discussion had distinguished careers before and after the University City venture, so collectors must consider what pieces were made there and what was manufactured elsewhere. An index on marks in the Conradsen catalog is a guide to possible variants. The record-setting Rhead peacock vase had an impeccable provenance beginning with its purchase in St. Louis in 1910 and ending up several generations later in Southern California, and Rhead did some his best work while in residence at University City. A 1910 panel of tiles with peacock design is a prize possession of the Two Red Roses Foundation, which is planning a new Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement scheduled to open in Florida in 2017.

Adelaide Alsop Robineau also was at University City for only about two years, yet it was there that she created her masterpiece, the intricately carved “Scarab Vase” now at the Everson Museum of Art. This vase and several others created for the American Woman’s league were part of the presentation that won her the grand prize at the international exposition in Turin, Italy in 1911. One mark she used was her monogram with an incised UC and a date.

Although much of her work is now in museums, Robineau’s forms and other ceramics by the University City artists do show up at auctions. Don Treadway of the Treadway Toomey Galleries said recently, “I’ve actually sold a good bit of Robineau and University City privately. I have two clients in the St. Louis area who like it because of the local connection. I have had numerous things through the years by all of these people, but it’s pretty difficult to find most of it. In terms of the more important artists in American art pottery, these were some of the best and some of the most elusive. You can have all the money in the world but you can’t always find pieces.” Treadway was fortunate enough to sell a rare Frederick Rhead vase in 2007 which had been consigned from a California collection.

Taxile Doat had a long and prolific career, principally in France, so his work shows up at European auction houses as well as in American sales. He arrived in University City with a large study collection of his porcelains, and then – as was the case with Robineau – went on to do some of his most spectacular exhibition pieces while working at the school. Another archival photo shows him at work in the studio on a monumental porcelain charger commemorating the first convention of the American Woman’s League. Collectors can choose from wide variety of Doat styles ranging from classical works for Sevres to simple Japanese forms with stunning glazes.

University City Ceramics catalog is available for $29.95 from St Louis Art Museum bookstore; call the shop at 314-655-5249 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


This 4-inch vase with a crystalline floral glaze and carved neck was made by Adelaide Alsop Robineau. Marked with her logo and dated 1919, the work brought $35,600 with premium at Treadway Toomey Auctions in December. Treadway Toomey Auctions image 

Perfectly suited to the form, a multicolored peacock wraps its tail around a slender vase signed by Frederick and Agnes Rhead, which sold for a record-setting $570,000 at John Moran in California last year. Dated 1910, the masterwork was created by the artist and his wife during their brief residency at the University City ceramics school for women in the St. Louis area. John Moran Auctioneers image 

This diminutive vase topped with yellow phlox demonstrates Adelaide Alsop Robineau’s mastery of the porcelain process. Made at University City in 1910, the elaborately carved vase features cutout reticulations filled with translucent glaze. St. Louis Art Museum image 

The Rheads also created architectural tile patterns for interior decoration. A fireplace surround with landscape frieze was created in 1911 for the home of John J. Meacham in University City and is now permanently installed in the St. Louis Art Museum nearby. St. Louis Art Museum image 

Taxile Doat, who came to University City directly from the Sevres factory in France, had literally written the book – ‘Grand Feu Ceramics’ – on porcelain manufacture. Among his works now in the collection of the St. Louis Art Museum is this variation on a traditional Japanese sake bottle covered with a crystalline glaze. St. Louis Art Museum image 

Although he produced art pottery and tiles both before and after his residency at University City, important works by Frederick Rhead seldom come on the market. This small vase with an incised organic pattern was hammered down for $21,000 at Treadway Toomey in 2007. Treadway Toomey Auctions image 

Once again, Frederick Rhead demonstrates his ability to unify form and design in this 12-inch vase wrapped with an incised pattern of winter trees, made circa 1911 during his residence in University City. 

When Taxile Doat arrived at University City to teach porcelain techniques in 1909, he brought with him a study collection of examples he had produced while working in the Sevres factory or his French studio. One of hiss favorite forms was a glazed circular charger with a classical pate-sur-pate medallion at its center. Similar examples have sold on the American and European auction markets in the $3,000-$7,000 range. St. Louis Art Museum image 


Last Updated on Monday, 26 January 2015 16:44

Ceramics Collector: Christopher Haun, patriot potter

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Monday, 15 September 2014 15:48

The pottery prize of the Case auction was this rare ring bottle by Christopher Alexander Haun (1821-1861), which sold for $30,680. The important example of East Tennessee pottery is headed for MESDA in Winston-Salem, N.C., where it will go on display in October 2015. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – In America’s early history, skilled artisans supplied consumers’ demand for utilitarian and luxury goods to fill their homes. While making the objects we cherish as antiques today, these craftsmen – potters, cabinetmakers, silversmiths and glassblowers – were also the backbone of our young democracy. They stepped out of their workshops to vote, enlist as soldiers, and run for local office. The best known example of the active artisan/citizen is probably Revolutionary patriot Paul Revere.

In July, a superb earthenware ring bottle marked “Haun” sold for $30,680 (est. $16,000-$18,000) at a Case Antiques estate auction in Knoxville, Tenn. As fresh as the day it was made, the form was glazed in a bright snake green produced by copper oxide and covered in complex impressed patterns. Purchased with a purpose in mind, the unusual form is headed for the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, N.C., where it will go on display in the William C. and Susan S. Mariner Southern Ceramics Gallery scheduled to open in October 2015.

The maker’s mark is that of Christopher Alexander Haun (1821-1861), another artisan with an interesting history of leaving his workshop to fight for what he believed in. Case is well-known for its finds in the field of regional painting, furniture and decorative arts. The ring bottle turned up at a local appraisal fair and was consigned by a family who had carefully preserved it because they knew it had a connection to the Civil War. Catalog entries at the firm frequently go beyond aesthetic description to make important contributions to our understanding of the historical background of the objects.

Christopher Haun belonged to a related group of potters in Greene County, which also included other established makers such as William Hinshaw and J.A. Low as well his younger brother Lewis Haun. Like many people in eastern Tennessee, Haun was strongly Union in his sympathies when the Civil War began. Several potters were among the raiding party who burned a Confederate railroad bridge at Lick Creek, an act for which five men including Haun were executed in 1861.

He wrote a letter to his wife from a Knoxville jail telling her to contact his potter friends about finishing off his current wares and then to sell the equipment in his workshop. John Case credits East Tennessee pottery expert Carole Wahler for her detailed research on the craftsman which has led to a better understanding of his work; an entry on the Haun Pottery appears on her website

Case stresses the importance of Haun and his work: “We’re talking about this extraordinary potter, who I think is one of the finest potters of the 19th century. In a few short years, a number of pieces have surfaced that would be considered masterpieces of the ceramic art.” He stresses that only recently have these facts about Haun’s life and career emerged to provide a background for his beautifully crafted pots. In May 2010, the auction house sold a rare pitcher decorated in lead glaze with manganese or iron oxide loop designs for $9,988 (est. $3,500-$4,500). In the fall that year, they offered a well-shaped redware jar covered in cream slip and decorated with a bold green loop pattern that brought $36,800. Both were marked “C.A. Haun.”

The circular form of the ring bottle allowed it to be tied to a saddle or hooked over an arm for carrying. After the auction, Case noted that this was the only known example of the form from the Haun pottery works: “And I’m afraid it will be for the future – it’s unbelievably rare. This green bottle is so elegant in form and perfectly crafted. It was difficult to make these ring bottles; two halves of clay had to be joined at a seam so the section is perfectly circular. On top of that, he ran a band around the outer circumference and then added the stamps – surely he was showing off. I don’t know of a finer example in the South or in the North. And it’s redware on top of which he put down these amazing glazes of lead and copper oxide; you can’t really do that with stoneware. It looks like it was made two weeks ago.” Collectors attending next February’s Williamsburg Antiques Forum can look forward to a lecture on Haun and his pottery by John Case.

Skillful execution and excellent condition naturally led to the purchase of the Haun rarity as an important exhibit for the new gallery planned for MESDA. Robert Leath, chief curator and vice president, collections & research, at Old Salem Museums & Gardens wrote: “With the addition of the ring bottle to the Mariner Collection, we are delighted that both he and his pottery will be represented in the Mariner Gallery when it opens next year in October 2015.”

A recent MESDA announcement about the gallery noted that the installation “will be the first permanent museum gallery of its kind devoted solely to early southern pottery, combining masterpieces from both the museum’s public and the Mariners’ private collections. … Together, these objects will tell a more complete story of the southern ceramics traditions and how it evolved from the early 18th century to the mid-19th century than has ever been told before, detailing the lives of individual potters from Duche to Aust to Chandler, and all the major centers of southern ceramics production from Baltimore to Edgefield to western Tennessee.”

Currently, Case presents two large estate auctions a year at their headquarters in the historic Cherokee Mills building in Knoxville. The next major auction will be held in Jan. 24. For more information visit

To follow the activities of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts and the Old Salem Museums and Gardens, visit On Oct. 23-25, the eighth biennial MESDA Conference with presentations on Southern material culture and decorative arts will be held at the Kentucky Historical Society in Frankfort.


The pottery prize of the Case auction was this rare ring bottle by Christopher Alexander Haun (1821-1861), which sold for $30,680. The important example of East Tennessee pottery is headed for MESDA in Winston-Salem, N.C., where it will go on display in October 2015. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

The potting skill of Christopher Haun can be clearly seen in the graceful shape of this 13-inch high jar with attached loop handles. The jar, covered with cream slip decorated with an abstract design in green, sold for $36,800 four years ago. Courtesy Case Antiques

The stamped mark of C.A. Haun appears on the jar’s shoulder underneath a splash of copper oxide glaze. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

Although missing its handle, the redware pitcher clearly bears the stamp of C.A. Haun by the compass star on the upper rim; the lot brought $9,988 at Case in 2010. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

John Case shows off the perfect condition and circular form of the Haun ring bottle. An elaborate impressed pattern enlivens the vessel’s green-glazed surface. Image courtesy Case Antiques.

This decorated lead-glazed earthenware dish attributed to Gottfried Aust of Salem, N.C., circa 1775-1785, will be another exhibit in the new Mariner Gallery at MESDA. Image courtesy Old Salem Museums and Gardens.

Destined for display in the Mariner Gallery, this simple crock bears the signature “Mary Adams” and was made 1810-1830 in Hagerstown, Md. This is the earliest signature of a female potter on a Southern piece. Adams was the daughter of potter Jonas Knode and widow of potter Henry Adams. Image courtesy Old Salem Museums and Gardens.

Last Updated on Monday, 26 January 2015 14:55
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