Editor's note: The following article was reprinted in Resource Library on July 29, 2005 with the permission of the author. If you have questions or comments regarding the article, please contact Valerie Ann Leeds directly through either this phone number or address:
American Art Pottery: Selections from the Charles Hosmer Morse Collection
By Valerie Ann Leeds
American Art Pottery has been defined as ceramics (earthenware, stoneware or porcelain) created with an artistic and decorative intent. Commencing around the time of the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, the American Art Pottery movement flourished until about 1915, though some potteries continued to produce work for several more decades. Works were generally fabricated with commercial interests, largely within the context of commercial organizations, though single individuals were also producers.  The Art Pottery movement in America was conceived, in part, as a reaction to the prevailing trend towards industrialization.
The realization of the exhibition, American Art Pottery: Selections from The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, represents the first comprehensive survey of this collection, highlighting forty years of collecting in this area. The 180 selected examples trace the Art Pottery movement in America virtually from its inception. The exhibition includes objects dating from 1879 to 1963. Many of the most notable art potteries are represented, including Coultry, Fulper, Grueby, Newcomb, George Ohr, J. B. Owens, Pewabic, Teco, Tiffany Studios, Weller, and T. J. Wheatley, among others. The longstanding wish to reveal this unheralded aspect of the Morse Museum's collection culminated in the current exhibition, which offers an overview of their extensive American Art Pottery holdings.
The uniquely personal collecting philosophy followed by Jeannette Genius McKean (1909-1989) and Hugh F. McKean (1908-1995), guided the development of the Museum's acquisitions in the area of American Art Pottery. The Museum was founded in 1942 by Mrs. McKean and named in honor of her grandfather, Chicago industrialist Charles Hosmer Morse. Together, she and her husband built the collection.
Their fascination with the artistry of Louis Comfort Tiffany, the primary emphasis of the Morse Museum of American Art collections, provided the genesis for the Art Pottery collection. Their passionate objective was to present the most complete view of Tiffany's creative production. When they became aware that Tiffany had worked in ceramics, they sought to represent that feature of his artistic output, and began assembling representative examples.
These first acquisitions date to the mid 1950s, and what was initially a peripheral aspect of their interest in Tiffany, eventually resulted in amassing a collection of over eight hundred pieces of American Art Pottery. The collection now illustrates the basic development of this artform in America. Moreover, it encompasses the single largest collection of Art Pottery by Tiffany, with approximately eighty examples; fifty-two are presented in the exhibition. This exhibition is significant for its overall scope, and is additionally notable for its presentation of a wide selection of Tiffany's pottery, and exceptional in its range and diversity, which can be seen together for the first time.
After the initial acquisitions of Tiffany's ceramics, the McKeans became aware that Tiffany's leaded glass lamp shades had been initially paired with Grueby Pottery bases. As a consequence, examples of Grueby Pottery were sought to illustrate the connection between Tiffany and Grueby. Works produced by Cincinnati's well-known Rookwood Pottery were later introduced into the collection when the McKeans noted that Tiffany & Co. had sold Rookwood Pottery in their showrooms. In some cases the pottery of certain firms was collected in depth, such as Rookwood, Grueby, and Tiffany; others such as Adelaide Alsop Robineau and M. Louise McLaughlin are represented by a single work.
Rookwood Pottery has the most comprehensive representation within the Collection, as well as in the exhibition, with pieces from essentially every phase of its production. Of the eighty-seven examples presented in the exhibition, a number feature Rookwood's most prominent decorators, including Maria Longworth Nichols Storer, Matthew A. Daly, Albert R. Valentien, Artus Van Briggle, Kataro Shirayamadani, and Charles Schmidt.
Painted floral motifs dominate the' Rookwood selections, though figurative themes (including Indian subjects), metal mounts, geometric and natural relief designs, plaques, and utilitarian objects are also included. Key examples also demonstrate Rookwood's range of creative innovation, which placed special emphasis on their glaze lines. Designs finished with the noted Standard, Goldstone, Dull Finish, Iris, Vellum, and Mat glazes are among those exhibited.
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