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Pauline Pottery Covered Jar

Hand-painted earthenware jar manufactured by the Pauline Pottery, Edgerton, Wisconsin, 1888-1892.
(Museum object # 1964.95.1,A)

Between 1888 and 1909 the city of Edgerton, Wisconsin was home to six different companies producing nationally recognized ceramic art. The art potteries of Edgerton were part of a late nineteenth and early twentieth century trend known as the American Art Pottery movement. Rather than one single style, American art pottery is best characterized by an innovative approach to ceramic design and an emphasis on decoration over function. The covered jar featured here, produced by the Pauline Pottery for sale at stores like Marshall Field's of Chicago, Kimball's of Boston, and Tiffany's of New York, represents just one example of this broad movement in American ceramics.

Chicago-born artist and entrepreneur Pauline Jacobus was the central figure of Edgerton's art pottery movement. In 1883, Jacobus established the Pauline Pottery, the first art pottery company in Chicago. Five years later she along with her husband and business partner Oscar Jacobus relocated the Pauline Pottery to Edgerton to gain access to the area's high quality clay. In Edgerton Oscar supervised the production of ceramic battery jars for the Bell Telephone Company, while Pauline directed thirteen women in the decoration of ornamental wares.

Unfortunately, little is known about the women who worked as decorators for Jacobus. Because the ceramics they painted were considered products of the Pauline Pottery and not individual works of art, these women rarely signed their work. This jar is one of several examples of Pauline Pottery donated to the Wisconsin Historical Society by Evelyn Huggins. According to Huggins, her mother Lulu Devereaux Dixon worked as a designer and decorator for the Pauline Pottery between 1888 and 1892. Although the jar is unsigned, it is possible that it was painted by Dixon.

Lulu Devereaux was born January 31, 1866 in the small community of Union, Rock County, Wisconsin, the daughter of farmer Edward Devereaux and Eva W. Whaley. Around 1888 she married Albert E. Dixon (1862-1909) who operated a creamery in Evansville. At some point between 1920 and 1930 Dixon moved to San Diego, California with her daughter Evelyn. She died May 4, 1947 in Los Angeles.

Women played a central role in the American Art Pottery movement, both as leaders like Jacobus and as workers like Dixon. The popularity of hand-decorated ceramic art grew out of the china painting trend of the late nineteenth century, when thousands of women around the country took up the art of painting on porcelain. While simply a hobby for many women, others turned porcelain decorating into a professional artistic venture. One of the leaders of the china painting trend was Susan Frackelton of Milwaukee. In addition to painting and selling her own work, Frackelton patented a portable gas kiln, developed her own line of glazes, published an instruction manual (Tried By Fire, 1885), and established a nationwide organization of china painters known as the National League of Mineral Painters.

Another Midwestern china painter, Maria Longworth Nichols of Cincinnati, Ohio, was a major influence on the Pauline Pottery. In 1882, Jacobus took courses in ceramic design and production at Nichols's newly established art pottery, the Rookwood Pottery. When Jacobus returned to Chicago to establish her own pottery she brought along two Rookwood employees—designer Laura Fry and kiln builder John Sargent. Jacobus also adopted the system of production in use at Rookwood.

The jar shown here and its matching lid were formed in molds by a potter and then fired by a kiln worker. In a bisque state the jar was passed to a decorator who painted the colorful design. It was then coated in clear glaze and refired to a finished state. Although the term "art pottery" implies a single artist working on each unique piece from start to finish, the division of labor used by Pauline and Rookwood was a more commercial approach that enabled both companies to turn out larger quantities of wares.

The success of the Pauline Pottery was short-lived. In 1894, faced with financial difficulties following the death of Oscar Jacobus, the company was forced to close. But by then the Jacobuses had already inspired a lasting legacy of ceramic art production in Edgerton. Thorwald Samson and Louis Ipson of Denmark, who came to Wisconsin to work as designers for the Pauline Pottery, settled in Edgerton and established the American Art Clay Works in 1892 (later known as Edgerton Art Clay Works). In 1903, Samson and Ipson created a new ceramic studio, the Norse Pottery. Two other former Pauline Pottery employees–salesman Wilder Pickard and decorator Mae Johnson–established Pickard China, a studio for porcelain decoration, in 1894.

After the Pauline Pottery closed, the company was reorganized as the Edgerton Pottery Company and continued to manufacture earthenware for industrial use as well as some art pottery under the name Rock Pottery. Jacobus herself reopened the Pauline Pottery on a much smaller scale from 1902 to 1909, operating a single kiln from the grounds of her estate north of Edgerton.

175 examples of Wisconsin ceramic art from the collection of the Wisconsin Historical Museum can be viewed in an online tour. The Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database includes catalog entries for Edgerton art pottery from the collections of the Kenosha Public Museum, the Neville Public Museum of Brown County and the Rock County Historical Society.

[Sources: Brandimarte, Cynthia A. "Somebody's Aunt and Nobody's Mother: The American China Painter and Her Work, 1870-1920" (Winterthur Portfolio 23:4, 1988, pp. 203-224); Owen, Nancy E. Rookwood and the Industry of Art: Women, Culture, and Commerce, 1880-1913 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2001); Montgomery, Maurice. Edgerton's History in Clay: Pauline Pottery to Pickard China (2001); Pagel, Ori-Anne. Pauline Pottery: A Pictorial Supplement to Edgerton's History in Clay (Edgerton, WI: Arts Council of Edgerton, 2003); Wisconsin Pottery Association, "Significant Wisconsin Pottery Companies" available online at www.wisconsinpottery.org/wis-hist.htm.]

EKP


Posted on September 04, 2008

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