Chalkware is an American term for popular figurines either made of moulded plaster of Paris (usually) or sculpted gypsum, and painted, typically with oils or watercolors. They were primarily created during one of three periods: from the late 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century, during the Great Depression, and during the 'mid-century modern' era as decorative lamps, figurines and wall decor from the 1940s-1960s. Those created during the earlier period were intended as a more serious decorative art, often imitating the more expensive imported English Staffordshire potteries figurines such as Staffordshire dog figurines; those during the second period, by contrast, were more typically somewhat jocular. Early chalkware was often hollow and is difficult to find unblemished.
Heavy, and easy to break or chip, chalkware eventually lost favor to ceramic and plastic alternatives in the 1970s. Remaining pieces of MCM (and earlier) chalkware can be easily found today with more exotic or rare examples fetching hundreds or thousands of dollars by collectors on auction sites and other dealers.
Mid-Century Modern (MCM) Era
Chalkware flourished during this post-war time (1945-1965) as a inexpensive and expressive medium for the home, serving many types of taste and types of decorative need with table lamps, figurines, wall decor and tourist memorabilia. Attracting fine, mundane and comic artists, chalkware reached a broad audience during the MCM era providing everything from representations of European sculpture, to kitsch images of exotic travel, cartoonish characters and potty humor.
MCM Lamps MCM chalkware lamps were often romantic and exotic with a focus on the idealized beauty of historic, natural, and abstract designs. Common motifs were dancers (often sold as a male and female pair), innocent or sensual figures, trees, flowers, animals, zig-zags, waves and modern abstract sculpture typical of the period. One of the most popular motifs were of romanticized, stereotyped Asian, African, Native American, Hawaiian people in exotic (at times inaccurate) settings or costume. Low lighting was sometimes included in the lamp design with small nightlight bulbs. TV lamps, based upon popular chalkware radio lamp designs, quickly became replaced by ceramic.
An attempt to thwart competitors from copying their highly successful male/female paired chalkware lamps and statuettes was taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court by Benjamin and Rena Stein of Reglor of California in 1953. They won a technical victory that did not ultimately stop copying. 
Wall Decor Wall decor chalkware included bath motifs like fish or mermaids, kitchen motifs like fruit, and 'wall pockets' that often were faces with small areas in the back suitable for air plants or plastic flowers.
Memorabilia Tourist memorabilia included ashtrays, figures, bobble-heads and destination-specific representations.
Advertising Companies such as the Universal Statuary Corp of Chicago made point-of-sale chalkware figures as well. 
Production Houses Popular American MCM chalkware companies whose work can be found traded today include Continental Art Company (Chicago) , Alexander Baker Company or 'ABCO' (New York) , Fine Arts In Plastics or F.A.I.P (Brooklyn), Jo Wallis Lamp Company, Miller Studios , Reglor (Montebello, California) , Universal Statuary Corp. (Chicago), and Vaillancourt Folk Art (Massachusetts).
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