Rookwood Faience

Fountain of the Water Nymph, 1913

As promised, here are some of the pictures of the Rookwood architectural faience. The fountain in this first picture was originally installed in the Rookwood showroom and was displayed there until the company was relocated to Mississippi in 1960. When the Cincinnati facility was dismantled the fountain was purchased by a real estate developer and installed in a bowling alley, of all places! And here I thought I was brave displaying ceramic horses in a house with young boys. At least I didn’t have to worry about someone tossing a bowling ball.

The fountain is actually made of tiles, which is obvious in this photo. The woman is a separate figure set on a tile base and added to the composition. I found this concept fascinating. I have concepts drawn out for future projects that involve sculptural tiles that fit together like a puzzle, but it never occurred to me that the tiles did not have to assemble across a flat surface, or that three-dimensional sculptural elements might be added.

Here is a detail shot of the bas relief pieces on the back. I wish I had taken more detail shots of all of these pieces.

Chimneypiece, 1903

This mantel was a custom design done on commission. At the turn of the last century a simple stock mantel of fairly plain tiles could be ordered for $8.75 (that’s $166 in modern dollars), and an elaborate one with mantels, brackets, shelves and bas relief tiles could cost as much as $210 (equivalent to almost $4000 today).

I found this interesting because my first bas relief, the Celtic Pony, was designed for the corners of my own fireplace. He never was installed because I realized I needed to do a reverse design for it to look right on the two sides. Oh, to have the time to design a whole mantel of pony tiles!

This next piece was a carved wooden mantel created for Rookwood in 1851, the childhood home of Maria Longworth Nicols Storer, founder of the Rookwood Pottery. It isn’t ceramic, of course, but I thought it was interesting to see how fine craftsmanship was a part of her upbringing.

Angels, 1920

I found these two pieces interesting because they are such large ceramic castings. They are apparently the only two ever made from the mold, and were done for the Seventh Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati. They were among the things that survived unharmed the 1970 that destroyed the church, although the glaze was slightly discolored.

The description card stated that the angel had been sculpted in clay and then cast with a “multi-part plaster mold”. I have to imagine the angels were themselves assembled from pieces, too. I’d hate to think how heavy those molds would have been wet, or how difficult the greenware would have been to transport. Of course, it makes it easier when your kiln is big enough to sit a dinner party.

The other thing that was striking about the Rookwood Pottery pieces on display was how very different the ceramic world was at that time. The pottery rose to fame largely through wins at competitions for ceramics. The idea of high-profile competitions for ceramic products was interesting in itself, but even more so because the items were cast. That is, at least in the modern ceramic world, just not done. Cast ceramics are not considered a legitimate art form in that community. I have always thought that was a shame because relegating casting to the ceramic ghetto is a big reason why ceramic mold-making is a dying art. What I didn’t realize is that it wasn’t always that way, so perhaps there is hope that one day the skill involved will be appreciated again.

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5 Responses to Rookwood Faience

  1. Adalee August 3, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    Wow- those pieces are fantastic, Lesli! Thanks so much for sharing! The detail and craftsmanship of that period never fail to amaze and inspire. The bit you mentioned on slip casting is fascinating; I didn’t realize that it was once considered legitimate art, either! That leaves hope that the tide will turn eventually. And with vintage stuff only gaining in popularity, perhaps one day there will be an arts & crafts revival…. 🙂

  2. Lesli Kathman August 3, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    We can hope so, on both counts!

    I hope to go back again and get better pictures. The ones I had left me with more technical questions than answers. And I am still kicking myself for not purchasing the (rather pricey) Rookwood bookends I was admiring in the gift shop.

  3. Diane August 5, 2011 at 2:16 am #

    Well, I’ve met many folks that cast in the Modern Art community as well as various collectible niches, from porcelain dolls (not your mom’s dolls either! 🙂 ) to military enthusiasts (I’m hoping to start work on one of those myself). Grant you I live relatively close to a big city, but I also don’t get around much. 🙂 Of course there are a lot of pottery people out there that exclusively do work on the wheel, but I’ve met a few of them that also cast.

    Some of the latter do tend to snub their noses at cast or even low-fire work of any kind. I took a course several years ago with a teacher like that. She did seem surprised at what I did when I brought a few pieces in to show her though. As I’m not a very competitive person perhaps I just don’t see it as much. Rose colored glasses. 🙂

    And I’m also a big fan of Rookwood pottery and been lucky enough to have seen a lot ovr the years. There are a lot of pottery collecters around this area. Wish I could be one of them!

    Loved your pics!

  4. nootka November 16, 2011 at 9:34 pm #

    If I won the lotto, I( would make sure you HAD the time to design such a pony mantel. How enchanting!

  5. Tangobutt March 5, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    You could always do an impression opposite, which is honorable and cool looking. It might be slightly smaller, depending on what kind of stoneware you did the impression opposite with.
    It would be great looking, with the glaze on it, in its own right.

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