American Mid-Century Modern Ceramics, Part 1: East is East (U.S.) Pottery and China

Article and Photos By Tom Cotter
   As noted in my article on American Mid-Century Modern (MCM) Glass published in the September, 2020, Mountain States Collector, the period from 1940 to 1970 the United States experienced a dramatic change in technologies, income distribution, tastes, and designs that we now call the Mid-Century Modern phenomenon. The Mid-Century period beheld a greater sense of useful home articles; dinnerware for every day, kitchenware that could be sequenced from a refrigerator to a stove/oven and then a dishwasher, decorative pieces to sit on a bookcase, TV set, or simple furniture that begged for adornment. Also referred to as “soft” modernism, MCM saw a fantastic growth in all types of ceramics. Technology allowed smaller companies to flourish, imports declined sharply during World War II, and designers created a new sense of propriety with smoother lines, a variety of colors, and nature-inspired organic shapes. Leisure time, expendable income, mobility (cars), and in-home entertaining increased dramatically. Souvenirs from road trips became a “thing.” The post-War period continued mass population movement from the countryside to cities creating a new and more dynamic suburbia. Oh, yeah, and some form of clay/kaolin suitable to make pottery and china exists almost universally. My focus in this article will be on ceramic production companies east of the Mississippi River, since western states, especially California, generated their own flavors during the MCM era. I am writing a second article highlighting those western U.S. producers for the September Mountain States Collector.
   In the pottery, china, and ceramics area, MCM pieces ranged from nostalgic to ultramodern, both in shapes and surface designs. Tina Broderson, my wife, succinctly and appropriately stated, “People were recapturing their roots while extending their branches.” Thus, we see everything from bucolic farm scenes and a vast array of sentimental animal and human figurines to ultra-modern shapes and surreal surface designs. Roosters particularly became very popular, generating a whole chicken-inspired set of themes on dinnerware and as figurines. Nostalgia flourished and sometimes combined with or distanced itself from avant-garde. Results could be kitschy; vivid orange and green creations to blend with Harvest Gold, turquoise, ochre, mauve, and other “earthy” hues. The introduction of television cabinets and proliferation of Scandinavian inspired pale furniture begged for decoration with MCM ceramics.
   Certainly, anyone can make a collection of one or more industrial designers’ products from the MCM era, as evidenced by a book devoted to Russel Wright who, with wife Mary created lines for Steubenville, Iroquois, Bauer, Knowles, and others. Credited with devising Homer Laughlin’s Fiesta and Harlequin, Frederick Rhead may be in a sense the most collected of all ceramics designers. Like several others, Vincent Broomhall provided styles that crossed from Art Deco in the 30’s to post-War Modernism for Edwin Knowles, Continental Kilns, which he founded and directed, and Homer Laughlin. Others included Eva Zeisel (“probably because I consist myself of curves instead of straight lines, meaning I’m a little bit fat.”1 for Castleton, Hall, Red Wing), Belle Kogan (Nelson McCoy, Red Wing), Charles Murphy (Red Wing), Ben Seibel (Iroquois, Roseville), and brothers Don (Homer Laughlin, Glidden) and Viktor Schreckengost (Salem), all created and influenced “new” looks for a number of ceramics companies. Viktor Schreckengost’s influence was extraordinary, since he taught at the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) for 50 years, followed by a Professor Emeritus position until his death. Many students from the CIA contributed to MCM ceramics and other designs.
   You might choose to collect a specific company or line of ceramic dinnerware for a Mid-Century Modern collection. The wealth of local resources, clay/kaolin materials, energy from wood, coal, natural gas, and electricity, a growing population of skilled workers, increasing markets, and exceptional transportation via the Ohio River, then railroads and highways, made the East Liverpool, Ohio/Newell and Chester, West Virginia, a wellspring of pottery and ceramics companies. A 19th century pioneer in East Liverpool, Harker created Cameo, Royal Gadroon, Wright-designed White Clover, and Stone China in White Cap, Blue Mist, Seafare, and Shell Pink. For giants like Homer Laughlin (HL), this could be daunting, although Century (Mexicana, Hacienda, Conchita and Riviera solid colors), Fiesta, Harlequin, Kitchen Craft, Rhythm, Jubilee, Modern Star (Quaker Oats), Golden Wheat (Duz detergent), and Epicure are available in many pieces, decorations, and/or colors. Broomall’s HL pattern contributions in the 60’s included Dover, Granada, Orbit, and Victoria. HL and others distributed wares through Sears, Montgomery Wards, Woolworth’s, other five and dime, gift, appliance companies, and department stores, as well as through magazine, food, beverage, and detergent companies and also stamp programs. Remaining in East Lancaster after HL moved across the Ohio River to Newell, Hall China was certainly renowned for teapots, but Jewel Tea’s home delivery (decades before Amazon!) offered Hall Autumn Leaf decalware products with a classically MCM simple flavor in muted seasonal colors. Hall also provided Century and Tomorrow’s Classic china lines created by Eva Zeisel (“normal” handles be damned!) with various decal offerings. On the south side of the Ohio River, Edwin M. Knowles presented Broomhall’s Deanna and Plaid, and ventured down memory lane with Currier & Ives and Classique, apparently both available through S&H Green Stamps. Chester’s Taylor, Smith & Taylor had a hugely popular line of Luray dinnerware, with tasteful curves and becoming pastels, along with their chicken-themed Reveille.
   Made elsewhere east of the Big Muddy, Free Form (avant garde-ish) and Christmas Eve (traditional) pieces for Salem China came from Viktor Schreckengost, while other Salem designs included Grantcrest (for W.T. Grant), Main Street, and Ranch Style. Near Salem in Sebring, Ohio, Royal China made modernist decorations/lines Star Glow and Blue Heaven in addition to “traditional” Tam O’Shanter, Colonial Homestead, the Old Curiosity Shop, and their version of Currier & Ives. Zanesville, Ohio, saw Roseville’s 1950’s last gasp including Seibel’s Raymor collection. Other Zanesville producers are mentioned in the following art pottery section of this article. Downstream from Chester, Paden City pottery thrived with lines like colorful Caliente, Highlight, Minion, and Preview (with numerous decal decorations. Minnesota’s Red Wing remains hugely popular among collectors, including Casual line Bob White, quintessentially MCM with simplicity and flow. Other Redwing dinnerware lines and decorations include Concord (Fantasy, Fruit, Lotus, Quartette), Town and Country (Eva Zeisel, with the pre-Al Capp playful Shmoo salt and peppers), Pompeii, and others, with several stoneware lines. American Modern (R. Wright) is one of the most in-demand and produced lines of the era, but Steubenville also had lines dubbed Fairlane, Shalimar, and Horizon. Iroquois China produced Ben Seibel’s lines Impromptu, Informal, Inheritance and Intaglio, as well as Russel Wright’s Casual, mostly in typically soft colors. Lena Watts executed stamped and hand-painted vibrant flowers, leaves, fruits, vines, and rustic scenes that adorned their products for Blue Ridge Southern Pottery of Tennessee. Southern’s wares found markets through Sears and Quaker Oats in the 40’s and 50’s. Lincoln, Illinois, home to Stetson China, which produced stenciled, hand-painted designs like Spruce, Dogwood, and other floral items. Kresge owned Mt. Clemens Pottery in Michigan, selling products through its five and dime and, later, K-Mart. New England and the mid-Atlantic had companies like Stangl in New Jersey making decal-printed styles by Kay Hackett such as thistles, fruits, flowers, and so on.
   Art, souvenir, and homeware ceramics abounded in the Mid-Century period. It seems that everybody made ash trays. Perhaps introduced in the U.S. about 1929 by McCoy (Ohio), ceramic cookie jars found a huge place MCM history made by McCoy, American Bisque (West Virginia), Abingdon (Illinois), Shawnee, and others, likely encouraged by better home appliances and the post-War baby boom. Cookie jars to collect might include Mother Goose and fairy tale characters, including Cinderella’s Coach, Little Red Riding Hood, Humpty Dumpty, Three Bears, etc.; TV and cartoon personalities like Davy Crockett, Hanna Barbera creations, Disney characters, and Sesame Street figures; animals such as kangaroos, penguins, koalas, bears, and squirrels; product brands styled from Coca Cola, Quaker Oats, and Hamms Beer; fruits and vegetables in bananas, strawberries, pineapples, or peppers; and shapes including the Liberty Bell, space capsules, sports balls, covered wagons, milk jugs, and myriad others. Hull made a few cookie jars, but focused on other items such as adornments like Tokay, Serenade, and Ebb Tide, as well lots of smiling piggy banks, and added a House ‘n’ Garden kitchen line in the ‘60s. Like others, Shawnee Pottery marketed and distributed through, national and regional retailers like Sears, florists, and others, providing distinctive planters (lots!), vases, wall pockets, figurines including oriental characters, coffee and teapots, the novel grinning elephant, cat, and pig kitchen wares, and the unique “Corn King” line. Spaulding China’s Royal Copley offered quality “gift shop merchandise at chain store prices”2 including myriad vases, planters, and figurines in animal and especially birds (chickens!) and human representations, sometimes with popular Chinese figures, also produced by other companies.
   Beside the above Ohio companies, other states boasted active ceramics makers. Purinton Pottery (Pennsylvania) provided teapots for McCormick Tea and vases and accessories for NapCO and Smith, Taylor & Smith, but marketed their own unique Brown Intaglio, Apple, Normandy Plaid, and Pennsylvania Dutch. Near Philadelphia, Pennsbury Pottery supplied pure Americana representations of Amish country including, of course, roosters, along with small bird vases. Red Wing art pottery included Belle Kogan-created Textura and Tropicana, or Charles Murphy’s Crackle and Fleck lines. A significant contributor, Illinois-based Haeger Potteries made collectible vases, lamps, and TV cabinet planters and accessories. Stangl augmented its housewares with a line of very popular Audubon-based bird figurines. Trained at New York’s Alfred College of Ceramic Arts Glidden Parker remained near his alma mater creating cutting edge soft stoneware shapes, decorations, and colors and making technological innovations to fuel success for his Glidden Pottery. Alfred graduate and celebrated ceramicist George Fong Chow designed Charcoal and Rice, Gulfstream, and New Equations for Glidden. Wisconsin’s Ceramics Arts Studio (CAS), distributed by Marshall Fields, produced a wide variety of historically costumed, ethnically attired, and religiously and fictionally based people. In addition, CAS designs mainly by Betty Harrington gave us dogs, cats, elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions, tigers, bears, budgies, parrots, penguins, chickens (who would have thought it?), and fish, often paired interestingly as salt and pepper shakers. Vermont had Bennington Pottery in the town of that name and Burlington’s Stanley Ballard.
   If I have missed your favorite Mid-Century Modern Eastern ceramics company, I apologize. This article offered way too many paths. In (Lois) Lehner’s Encyclopedia of U.S. Marks on Pottery, Porcelain & Clay the author notes that her book contains over 1,900 companies of marked wares. The Mid-Century Modern era saw the rise and demise of many, many firms. So what killed Mid-Century Modern ceramics production in the U.S.? A vast combination of changes in taste, dang cheap imports from Japan and China, and increasing labor costs all played a part. However, the Mid-Century Modern production in ceramics products insures that there is a supply and there is definitely a demand.
   A fantastic place for discovery is Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Arts, a unique treasure-trove of art in downtown Denver. Books that could pique your interest and satisfy your curiosity include Leslie Piña’s Pottery: Modern Wares 1920-1960, Keller & Ross’ Russel Wright, Dinnerware, Pottery & More, and Mike Schneider’s Animal Figures, Ceramics Arts Studio, The Complete Cookie Jar Book, and Royal Copley. is For a hand-on experience, come to the Front Range Glass Show Saturday and Sunday, October 2 and 3, 2021, at the Ranch Event Center Complex near Loveland. Jodi and Mark Uthe will provide a number of dealers offering educational and collecting opportunities. Our friends Peggy and Jon DeStefano continue to educate, enlighten, and intrigue us with articles and ads in the Mountain States Collector. Thank you, Jodi and Mark, Peggy and Jon. If you are interested in collecting and live in the Denver area, the Rocky Mountain Depression Glass Collectors provides great opportunities for learning and collecting. We will have a booth at the Front Range Glass Show, with members, including myself, offering items for sale, information, and insight into the local collecting scene.
   Learn, hunt, collect, enjoy.
   NOTE: Bibliography available on request. Footnotes: 1“Raising the Curve: Designer Eva Zeisel”. Ludden, Jennifer. NPR,, February 26, 2005. 2 “Royal Copley, Royal
Windsor.” Sebring Ohio Historical Society,

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