Rookwood Pottery Company
Rookwood Pottery Logo
|Architect||H. Neill Wilson (and later expanded)|
|NRHP Reference #||
|Added to NRHP||December 05, 1972|
Rookwood Pottery is an American ceramics company now located in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio. Founded in 1880, and successful until the Great Depression, production has been intermittent and at a low level since 1967, though there was a change of ownership in 2006, and expansion is planned.
Early years and expansion
Maria Longworth Nichols Storer, daughter of wealthy Joseph Longworth, founded Rookwood Pottery in 1880 as a result of being inspired by what she saw at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The inspirational works included Japanese ceramics and French pottery with under-glaze decoration. The first Rookwood Pottery was located in a renovated school house on Eastern Avenue which had been purchased by Maria's father at a sheriff's sale in March 1880. Mrs. Storer named it Rookwood, after her father's country estate near the city in Walnut Hills. The first ware came from the kiln on Thanksgiving Day of that year. Through years of experimentation with glazes and kiln temperatures, Rookwood pottery became a popular American art pottery, designed to be at least as decorative as it is useful. For more than a decade, beginning with Rookwood's founding, Clara Chipman Newton worked there as a china decorator, archivist, and general assistant with the title of secretary; she shared with Storer responsibility for overseeing the decoration and glazing.
Each era of Rookwood work has its own unique character. The earliest work is relief-worked on colored clay, in red, pinks, greys and sage or olive greens. Some were gilt, or had stamped patterns, and some were carved. Often these were painted or otherwise decorated by the purchaser of the "greenware" (unfinished piece), a precursor to today's do-it-yourself movement. However, such personally decorated pieces are not usually considered Rookwood for purposes of sale or valuation.
After this period, Storer sought a "standard" look for Rookwood and developed the "Standard Glaze," a yellow-tinted, high-gloss clear glaze often used over leaf or flower motifs. A series of portraits — often of generic American Indian characters or certain historical figures — were also produced using the Standard Glaze. A variant on the Standard Glaze was the less-common but very collectible "tiger eye" which appears only on a red clay base. Tiger Eye produces a golden shimmer deep within the glaze; however, it was unpredictable and it is not clear whether it was abandoned for reasons of chemistry or popularity.
Rookwood also produced pottery in the Japonism trend, after Storer invited Japanese artist Kitaro Shirayamadani to come to Cincinnati in 1887 to work for the company. Davis Collamore & Co., a high-end New York City importer of porcelain and glass, were Rookwood's representatives at the Exposition Universelle, Paris 1889.
In 1894, Rookwood introduced three glazes: "Iris" a remarkably clear, colorless glaze, "Sea Green" which was clear but green-tinted, and "Aerial Blue" which was clear but blue-tinted. The latter glaze was produced for just one year, while the two former glazes were used for more than a decade.
With increased interest in the American Arts & Crafts Movement, a matte glaze was needed which could be used over under-glaze decoration (largely floral and scenic). Rookwood responded in 1904 with the introduction of the "Vellum" glaze, which presented a matte surface but through which could be seen the slightly frosted-appearing decoration beneath.
One of the last glaze lines of Rookwood was "Ombroso," not used until after 1910. Ombroso, used on cut or incised pottery, is a brown or black matte glaze.
In 1902, Rookwood added architectural pottery to its portfolio. Under the direction of William Watts Taylor, this division rapidly gained national and international acclaim. Many flat pieces were used around fireplaces in homes in Cincinnati and surrounding areas, while custom installations found their places in grand homes, hotels, and public spaces. Original Rookwood-installed tiles can be viewed in Carew Tower, Union Terminal, and Dixie Terminal in Cincinnati, as well as the Rathskeller Room at the The Seelbach Hilton in Louisville, Kentucky. In New York City, the Vanderbilt Hotel, Grand Central Station, Lord & Taylor, and several subway stops feature Rookwood tiles.
The 1920s were highly prosperous years for Rookwood. The pottery employed about 200 workers and welcomed almost 5,000 visitors to the Mount Adams business each year.
Surviving the Great Depression
The company was hit hard by the Great Depression. Art pottery became a low priority for available cash, and architects could no longer afford Rookwood tiles and mantels. Mass production potteries churned out cheap lookalikes. By 1934, Rookwood showed its first loss, and by 1936 the company was operating an average of just one week a month. Several employees, most notably Harold Bopp, William Hentschel, and David Seyler, left the company and started Kenton Hills Porcelains in Erlanger, Kentucky. On April 17, 1941, Rookwood filed for bankruptcy. Through these tough times, ownership of the company changed hands, but the heart of the company, the Rookwood artists, remained, and high-quality pieces still left the Rookwood studios.
In 1959 Rookwood was purchased by the Herschede Clock Company, and production moved to Starkville, Mississippi. Unable to recover from the losses experienced during the Great Depression, production ceased in 1967.
By 1982, Rookwood was in negotiations to be sold to overseas manufacturers. Michigan dentist and art pottery collector Dr. Arthur Townley used his life savings to purchase all of the remaining Rookwood assets. During his tenure as Rookwood’s owner, Townley produced small quantities of pieces to maintain original trademarks.
Townley refused offers to sell Rookwood for over two decades, but eventually collaborated with Cincinnati investors in 2004 to move the company back to Cincinnati.
In July 2006, after approximately one year of negotiations, The Rookwood Pottery Company entered into a contract to acquire all of the remaining assets of the original Rookwood Pottery from Townley. These assets included, among other things, the trademarks, more than 3,000 original molds, and hundreds of glaze recipes used by the original Rookwood Pottery Company.
Today, Rookwood Pottery is owned by Martin and Marilyn Wade and operates from a production studio in the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati. The company is in full production, having invested in new kilns and equipment and hired an international staff of artists, glazers, and ceramicists. Rookwood’s tiles are sold through more than 75 tile dealers across the United States and Canada, and its art pottery is available in dozens of shops across the country, including at The Grove Park Inn in Asheville, the Transit Museum in New York, The Lodge at Torrey Pines in San Diego, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.
Rookwood Pottery also works with many major institutions to create awards and commemorative pieces. Rookwood Pottery artist Roy Robinson, for example, designed the Center Court Rookwood Cup, the first ATP World Tour and WTA trophy to carry the historic Rookwood name. The perpetual trophy was created in 2012 through a partnership with the Western & Southern Open. Further, Rookwood produces commemorative tiles and steins for such organizations as the Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati, Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. and the Cincy Blues Society.
Rookwood Pottery’s exclusively designed tiles are installed in an increasing number of businesses and institutions, including the 21c Museum Hotel in Cincinnati, which features the tiles in all of its guest bathrooms. In 2012 the historic Monroe Building of Chicago completed an ambitious, multi-year restoration of its original architectural elements to include the reconditioning and replacement of thousands of original Rookwood Pottery tiles along the walls and ceilings throughout the building.
In the summer 2013, a fireplace created by Rookwood Pottery in collaboration with artists at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning was installed at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. The installation is part of the museum’s “The Living Room” exhibit on display through September 2, 2013. Describing the collaboration, co-owner Marilyn Wade said: “Our goal in working with these three talented artists is to reposition Rookwood Pottery to what it was originally – a forward-thinking company with its eye on the future, willing to take risks, and in the vanguard of the industry, by affiliating ourselves with like-minded artists.”
Also in 2013, Rookwood Pottery was featured on the Martha Stewart Living Blog and on the Science Channel program “How It’s Made”, which featured Rookwood’s cremation urns. The “How It’s Made” crew returned in May 2013 to film a second episode to air in 2014.
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- Zimmeth, Khristi S. (Jun 1, 2006). Insiders' Guide Fun With the Family Ohio: Hundreds of Ideas For Day Trips With The Kids. Globe Pequot. p. 134. Retrieved 2013-05-09.
- The new studio is at .
- Laura Baverman, “Rookwood Out of the Fire,” Cincinnati Enquirer, Dec. 12, 2011
- Rookwood Pottery website, ”Where to Buy,” www.rookwood.com
- Rookwood Pottery press release, “Western & Southern Open and Rookwood Pottery Co. Partner to Create the 2012 Center Court Rookwood Cup, the First to Bear the Historic Name,” Aug. 6, 2012 https://www.rookwood.com/pressRelease.php?prId=46
- Susan Glaser, “Cincinnati's new 21c Museum Hotel merges art with overnight,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, March 24, 2013
- Rookwood Pottery press release, “Rookwood Pottery Co. Recognized for its Role in the Historic Renovation of Chicago’s Landmark Monroe Building,” May 7, 2012 https://www.rookwood.com/pressRelease.php?prId=31
- “The Living Room,” Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati,” contemporaryartscenter.org/Living_Room
- Tom Demeropolis, “Rookwood Pottery Featured on Martha Stewart Living Blog,” Cincinnati Business Courier, March 27, 2013
- John Kiesewetter, “How It’s Made to Feature Rookwood Pottery,” Cincinnati Enquirer, May 1, 2013