When most people hear the word “studio,” what comes to mind is a place where the music is made. Or maybe where a painter stamps his canvases. But studio pottery is also a thing, and it’s becoming more and more popular here in the wilderness. We have sold a lot of them in the last few months and the demand is increasing. So what is studio pottery? We will take a look.
As commonly used, the term “studio pottery” defines small batch pottery made by artisans. No mass production is involved, and no part is the same as another. As clay vessels have been made and used since the dawn of recorded history, it is one of the oldest forms of craftsmanship. In addition to Native American pottery (which we will discuss in a future column), most enthusiasts today are looking for 20th century pieces that reflect their own style and that of the era that interests them.
While identifying the exact maker of a jar can be tricky, its shape will often give clues to its age. Art Nouveau arts and crafts and pottery tend to be more rounded and traditional, while Art Deco pieces often have harsher lines. More modern pieces often reflect post-war experimentation with enamels and finishes. The color, decoration, shape and even the type of clay used are telltale signs of heritage, but these can be difficult for the hobbyist to read. More often than not, marks on the bottom of each jar will tell a clearer story.
And even these brands vary widely. They can include the ship’s home studio, the potter’s name or brand, and maybe even a second name if the pot has been painted or glazed uniquely. The year of manufacture can also be present with a model or form number. Some elite potters take out all their unsigned jars, reflecting an arrogant confidence that their followers will be able to identify their work by sight alone. Still, you’ll have to look at a lot of jars to be able to do this.
As with almost all one-of-a-kind items, pricing is arbitrary and subject to agreement between buyer and seller. The work of rock star potters can fetch large pieces, but there are countless small skilled craftsmen and hobbyists capable of producing elegant pieces. If you buy only for decoration, the world is your oyster. But if you are buying to collect or, even more difficult, to invest, then condition, rarity and provenance are essential.
If all else fails, there’s one place to go online that just might save you. The Marks project (themarksproject.org) is a nonprofit searchable database of American pottery that serves as a repository for maker’s marks and other identifying features. Many auction houses and advanced collectors participate, which makes it a very useful resource. If you are determined and determined to find out which hands have shaped your favorite vase, this is the best place to look. With practice, you can also gain the experience necessary to cast a potter’s name at a glance. If nothing else, it will make you a welcome guest at many local gatherings.
Mike Rivkin and his wife, Linda, are longtime residents of Rancho Mirage. For many years he was an award winning catalog editor and wrote seven books as well as countless articles. Now he is the owner of the Palm Springs Antique Galleries. His antiques column appears on Saturdays in The Desert Sun. Want to send Mike a question about antiques? Drop him a line at [email protected].