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University City Ceramics: Saint Louis Heritage and the Arts and Crafts Movement
June 4 - October 24, 2004
(above Agnes Rhead and Frederick Hurten Rhead; Fireplace Tiles (detail), 1911; incised and glazed stoneware; 50 x 95 1/2 inches; Museum Shop Fund, Friends Fund, gift of the Norman Family in loving memory of Isaac and Elva Norman, and funds given by Mr. and Mrs. L. Max Lippman Jr. 63:2001)
The Saint Louis Art Museum presents the exhibition University City Ceramics, the culmination of years of research, led by the Museum, into a unique facet of St. Louis's artistic heritage. The exhibition celebrates one of the most original art potteries of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, the Art Academy and Porcelain Works, established in 1909 in University City, a St. Louis suburb. The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue include 50 outstanding objects that illustrate the quality and diversity of ceramics made in University City from 1910 to 1914. The works selected for the exhibition come from museums and private collections nationwide, as well as from the Saint Louis Art Museum's own collection. (right: Taxile Doat, Vase, 1913-14; glazed porcelain, 7 x 4 inches; Historical Society of University City)
The University City pottery was founded by Edward G. Lewis, an amateur potter and publisher of women's magazines. Lewis recruited Taxile Doat, a French ceramist who was an expert on porcelain and high-fire glazes, and Adelaide Alsop Robineau, one of the leading ceramists in America. The faculty also included Emile Diffloth, a French ceramist who assisted Doat; the British-trained potter Frederick Hurten Rhead; and native St. Louisan Kathryn E. Cherry, who taught china painting. Although the collaborative association of these artists lasted less than two years, they each produced some of their most celebrated work during their time in University City. One of the most spectacular works produced in the Art Academy is a colorful set of mat-glazed fireplace tiles made in 1911 by Frederick H. and Agnes Rhead for the John J. Meacham house in University City. The fireplace tiles were acquired by the Museum in 2001.
Late in 1911 Edward Lewis declared bankruptcy, the Art Academy closed, and the University City Porcelain Works were reorganized under Taxile Doat's leadership. Doat focused on the goal of selling art porcelains and architectural ceramics using shapes and glazes which he had perfected in France. The exhibition includes about 25 porcelain vases from this second period (1912 to 1914), ranging from naturalistic gourds to elegant bottle and vase shapes, many featuring the delicately textured and richly colored crystalline glazes for which Doat was renowned. University City Ceramics was curated by David Conradsen, assistant curator of decorative arts and design, and is on view from June 4 through October 24, 2004.
Exhibition Wall Text
University City Ceramics
Between 1909 and 1914 University City, Missouri, was the site of a unique art academy and porcelain works. Established by the entrepreneur and publisher Edward G. Lewis (18691950), the art school and pottery was one division of a correspondence university called the Peoples University. Lewis brought together a faculty of renowned ceramists from Europe and America to teach and to produce exquisite vases, tiles, and other ceramics. Although the collaboration of these artists was short-lived, they each produced some of their most celebrated work in University City. (right: (from left) Taxile Doat, Vase, 1913; glazed porcelain; 5 x 5 inches; Funds given by the Cournoyer Family in loving memory of Jeffrey Kent Cournoyer 13:2004; Emile Diffloth, designer; Art Academy of the American Woman's League, maker; Vase, 1910; glazed porcelain; 7 1/2 x 4 1/4 inches; Friends Fund 216:1980)
The late-nineteenth-century interest in design reform and the craft revival led to the development of an art pottery movement. Like the Arts and Crafts Movement that it paralleled, the origins of the art pottery movement lay in the discovery of the arts of Japan and other non-Western cultures. Asian porcelain, stoneware, and other ceramics that were exhibited in the international expositions beginning in the 1870s inspired a period of stylistic and technical experimentation and innovation in both commercial factories and independent studios. In the United States alone, more than 150 art potteries were established between 1876 and 1920.
In spring 1909, as Edward Lewis was developing plans for the art school and pottery, he corresponded with Adelaide Robineau, of Syracuse, New York. Robineau was well known as a ceramist and as the publisher of the monthly china painting journal Keramic Studio. Robineau had begun to study pottery about 1900, and within five years she had become one of the leading American ceramists working in porcelain. Together they sought to enlist the talents of the French ceramist Taxile Doat, who had already enjoyed a long career as a decorator in the National Porcelain Manufactory at Sèvres. In 1903 Robineau had commissioned Doat to write a series of articles on making porcelain. Doat provided practical instructions and formulas for clays and glazes for the individual studio ceramist. He also mused on the mysteries of porcelain and its evocative history in the East, and he championed the unique properties of porcelain-translucency, hardness, and non-porosity-that elevated this material to the top in his ceramic hierarchy.
In June 1909 Doat visited University City to meet Edward Lewis and to view the Art Academy building in progress. On his return to France, Doat hired two skilled French workers, Emile Diffloth, a ceramic chemist, and Eugene Labarrière, a production potter, to assist him at the Art Academy. Meanwhile, Lewis also hired Frederick Hurten Rhead, an English-born potter, and Kathryn Cherry, a china painter, to complete the faculty. From December 1909 until spring 1911, these ceramists worked to produce a body of artistic works intended to establish the school's reputation.
University City Porcelain Works
During the spring of 1911 Edward Lewis declared bankruptcy, the result of lavish expenditures on the Art Academy and the cost of his legal defense against federal charges of mail fraud. The Art Academy closed in July and the faculty departed. By November of that year Taxile Doat had returned to University City with a new directive from Lewis to develop a line of artistic porcelains and commercial wares that could be sold to make the pottery self-supporting. That goal was never realized, although the financial picture stabilized during 1912. During the summers of 1912 and 1913 Doat taught a number of students, but most of the activity of the pottery centered on the production of artistic porcelains. From October 1912 until summer 1914 Doat worked with a small crew of assistants in the renamed University City Porcelain Works to perfect new porcelain bodies and glazes.
During this second phase of activity at University City, Taxile Doat returned to making small vases using shapes and glazes that he had first produced in his private studio during the 1890s. These delicate porcelains reflected his connoisseurship of Asian porcelain, bronzes, and enamels. He was particularly interested in shapes derived from fruits and gourds, as well as forms inspired by sake bottles and other vessels found in Asian ceramics. Doat developed a palette of colorful crystalline glazes, both glossy and matte in texture. The inherently unique and unpredictable nature of crystalline glazes yielded a wide range of colors, surface patterns, and textures that enabled him to produce a diverse body of ceramics from a limited number of shapes.
Edward Lewis created the Peoples University to offer free correspondence instruction for the thousands of women nationwide who sold subscriptions to his magazines and newspapers. The English-born potter Frederick Rhead and the china decorator and St. Louis native Kathryn Cherry taught hundreds of correspondence students as well as a dozen honor students-in-residence, who were invited to live and work in University City. Kathryn Cherry developed a course of instruction in painting with low-fired enamel colors on glazed porcelain-a process called china painting. Although she began as a student of Adelaide Robineau, Cherry soon surpassed her teacher and became a renowned instructor, author, and designer of both naturalistic and conventional subjects.
Frederick Rhead, who had trained and worked in schools
and potteries in Staffordshire, taught courses in low-fired earthenware
pottery. He used a simplified method of surface decoration, incising naturalistic
or conventionalized designs on vases and tiles and filling the contours
with colorful matte glazes. Rhead also prepared a textbook, Studio Pottery,
to accompany his courses. His student, Caroline Everett Risque, is the only
Art Academy honor student whose work is known. A native of St. Louis, Risque
studied sculpture with George Zolnay at University City when he became director
of the Art Academy, and in 1911 she studied pottery with Frederick Rhead.
(right: (from left) Frederick Hurten Rhead, artist, and Art Academy of the
American Woman's League, maker, Vase, c.1911; glazed earthenware;
12 3/8 x 5 inches; Gift of the Norman Family in loving memory of Isaac and
Elva Norman 64:2001; Adelaide Alsop Robineau, artist, and Art Academy
of the American Woman's League, maker, Vase, 1910; excised and glazed
porcelain; 6 1/16 x 2 7/16 inches; Bequest of Elsa K. Bertig in memory of
Joseph and Elsa Bertig, by exchange 471:1979; Taxile Doat, designer,
and University City Porcelain Works, maker, Vase, 1913; glazed
porcelain; 8 1/2 inches; Funds given by David A. Hanks in memory of Elizabeth
Dixon Hanks 81:2000)
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