Rookwood Pottery were trailblazers in the American pottery and ceramics trade, garnering themselves a loyal following from day one. Today, collectors seek everything from standard production hand painted decorator pieces. It’s undeniably sexy, with a style that makes one reflect on the past and look toward the future. It demands attention.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe Rookwood Pottery began as a hobby. In 1873, Rookwood founder Maria Longworth Nichols began dabbling in painting China, her passion was further fueled in 1876 when she attended the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and greatly admired works by the Haviland Company. By 1880 Maria was confident in her work with pottery and painting and Rookwood Pottery was born in a schoolhouse in Cincinnati, OH.
Rookwood Pottery’s first ten years saw many achievements, from the creation of their famous “standard glaze” to winning gold medals at the Exhibition of American Art Industry in Philadelphia and at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Choosing to follow her husband and his political career, Nichols sold Rookwood Pottery in 1885. Innovation continued into the 1890s, under new ownership Rookwood constantly reinvented design to stay current with trends including the Art Nouveau movement. A larger location in Cincinnati allowed for expansion of not only production, but artists space as well. The industry took note of Rookwood’s success, helping them to bring in artists such as Artus Van Briggle and make collaborations with Gorham who overlaid silver onto selected pieces, as well as other companies.
By the turn of the 20th century, Rookwood was not only industry famous, they had become a household name. A bride could expect a stunning vase or decorative tile amongst her wedding gifts, stores had a hard time retaining their stock. The Rookwood Book, a mail order catalogue, helped to expand business across the globe. Harvard University, who awarded Rookwood an honorary Master of Arts, declared Rookwood “the best American contribution to ceramic art.”
Unfortunately, the company fell on hard times during The Great Depression. Artists were let go and the company saw itself change ownership several times before moving to Starkville, Mississippi where it finally closed in 1967. Fortunately, the Rookwood name would not die there, but instead became a staple in the antiques industry. Rookwood pieces of all kinds can be found at America’s favorite antiquing destination, Heart of Ohio.