Rookwood Pottery

In 1880, Maria Longworth Nichols Storer (1849 - 1932, pictured) founded Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati, Ohio. A wealthy young woman, she was inspired, as so many of her contemporaries were, by the Japanese ceramics displayed at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial International Exposition. Though she had just one year of formal training in pottery and was unexperienced in business, she opened the first art pottery in the United States, naming it Rookwood after her childhood home. In 1883, she hired William Watts Taylor to manage the pottery, a position he retained until his death in 1913.

Storer, and to a greater extent Taylor, focused on the development of distinct, signature glaze lines, the first of which was the Standard Glaze line, a yellow-tinted translucent high gloss glaze over slip-painted decoration on ground colors of green, yellow and, more commonly, brown. Through the 1880s and 1890s more high gloss glaze lines were developed including Iris, Sea Green, and Aerial Blue. By the dawn of the 20th century, countless others were created, including matte glazes, which were gaining in popularity by that time. The vessels themselves were standardized shapes, and were first thrown or molded separately and then given to the decorator to be painted. In the early years they imitated Japanese forms, and though Oriental themes continued to inspire designs, a variety of subjects were explored, such as Native American portraits, sea faring vessels, landscapes, and a multitude of flora and fauna.

William Taylor played a key role in Rookwood’s success – the company would go on to become the largest art pottery in the country, employing over 200 people at its height. He sought to elevate humble pottery to the same level as fine art and increase their influence in the art world. To this end, the company hired many talented pottery decorators, who aimed for absolute perfection in the firing, avoiding crazing and glaze bubbles. Pieces that are uncrazed and have as few factory flaws as possible are especially desirable to collectors today. Among the many talented artists employed at Rookwood, some of the most celebrated are Matt Daly, Sara Sax, Carl Schmidt, Albert Valentien, Lenore Asbury, and Japanese artist Kataro Shirayamadani. All totaled, over 130 artists have been identified as having worked at Rookwood, many having distinct art careers outside of the pottery as well.

At first, the pieces were purchased mainly by Nichols’ wealthy friends, but Taylor expanded the company’s market to encompass regional, national, and international audiences. He not only advertised in nationally circulated journals and newspapers, he also made significant donations to museums, specifically to the Cincinnati Art Museum, who owned more than 2,000 pieces. Further, he ensured that Rookwood was included in regional displays as well as international expositions. Early honors included the Gold Medal at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris and highest honors at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Rookwood would go on to win even more impressive levels of acclaim: Gold and Silver medals at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, Grand Prize at the International Exposition of Ceramics and Glass in St. Petersburg that same year, a Diploma of Honor at the 1902 First International Exposition of Modern Decorative Arts in Turin, and two Grand Prizes at the 1904 Louisiana International Exposition in St. Louis, where they showcased the Vellum glaze line.

The pottery enjoyed success into the 20th century. Upon Taylor’s passing in 1913, management was handed to Joseph Henry Guest, the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum at the time, and the company continued to innovate and hire new and talented artists into the 1920s. Rookwood prospered until the Great Depression took its toll and sales slowed. Rookwood pottery had been marketed and collected as high-end, luxury craft, and many who had been acquiring the pieces could no longer afford to do so. As a consequence, Rookwood closed for a year from October 1930 to 1931, and by 1932 had laid off most of the decorators. The company filed for bankruptcy in 1941, at which point it was purchased by a firm of investors. Production continued in limited quantities through the Second World War. The company passed through several more hands before it moved to Mississippi in 1960 in order to cut costs, and lingered until 1967 when it permanently closed its doors.

Gone, but not forgotten, Rookwood Pottery left behind an impressive legacy as one of the most successful, most famous, and most artistically and technically innovative American art potteries of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Upcoming Lots Rookwood Pottery

Auction Results Rookwood Pottery

KATARO SHIRAYAMADANI, rare Sea Green lamp | ragoarts.com

Kataro Shirayamadani

rare Sea Green lamp
estimate: $45,000–55,000
result: $52,500

WILLIAM PURCELL MCDONALD FOR ROOKWOOD POTTERY, exceptional and large Relief Iris vase with poppies | ragoarts.com

William Purcell McDonald for Rookwood Pottery

exceptional and large Relief Iris vase with poppies
estimate: $19,000–24,000
result: $37,500

HARRIET ELIZABETH WILCOX FOR ROOKWOOD POTTERY, Exceptional Painted Mat vase | ragoarts.com

Harriet Elizabeth Wilcox for Rookwood Pottery

Exceptional Painted Mat vase
estimate: $2,000–3,000
result: $18,750

KATARO SHIRAYAMADANI, rare banded Iris Glaze vase with white cranes flying over snowy forest | ragoarts.com

Kataro Shirayamadani

rare banded Iris Glaze vase with white cranes flying over snowy forest
estimate: $8,000–12,000
result: $17,500

KATARO SHIRAYAMADANI FOR ROOKWOOD POTTERY, Modeled Mat vase with geese | ragoarts.com

Kataro Shirayamadani for Rookwood Pottery

Modeled Mat vase with geese
estimate: $3,000–4,000
result: $16,250

KATARO SHIRAYAMADANI, Flambé/Black Opal vase with poppies | ragoarts.com

Kataro Shirayamadani

Flambé/Black Opal vase with poppies
estimate: $7,000–9,000
result: $13,750

KATARO SHIRAYAMADANI, exceptional Dark Iris vase with herons and cattails | ragoarts.com

Kataro Shirayamadani

exceptional Dark Iris vase with herons and cattails
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $13,750

CARL SCHMIDT, rare Iris Glaze plaque (Country Bridge) | ragoarts.com

Carl Schmidt

rare Iris Glaze plaque (Country Bridge)
estimate: $7,500–9,500
result: $13,750

SARA SAX, Vellum plaque (Forest and Lake with Mountains) | ragoarts.com

Sara Sax

Vellum plaque (Forest and Lake with Mountains)
estimate: $5,000–7,000
result: $13,750

ALBERT R. VALENTIEN, exceptional and large Iris Glaze vase with flying geese | ragoarts.com

Albert R. Valentien

exceptional and large Iris Glaze vase with flying geese
estimate: $15,000–20,000
result: $13,500

CARL SCHMIDT, California Mountains Vellum plaque | ragoarts.com

Carl Schmidt

California Mountains Vellum plaque
estimate: $4,500–6,500
result: $11,875

MATTHEW DALY FOR ROOKWOOD POTTERY, Standard Glaze Native American portrait vases, set of two | ragoarts.com

Matthew Daly for Rookwood Pottery

Standard Glaze Native American portrait vases, set of two
estimate: $7,000–9,000
result: $11,875

SARA SAX, Frozen Stream Vellum plaque | ragoarts.com

Sara Sax

Frozen Stream Vellum plaque
estimate: $5,000–7,000
result: $11,250

SARA SAX, rare French Red vase with forsythia | ragoarts.com

Sara Sax

rare French Red vase with forsythia
estimate: $3,500–4,500
result: $10,000

FRED ROTHENBUSCH, large Vellum plaque (Mountains Over Lake) | ragoarts.com

Fred Rothenbusch

large Vellum plaque (Mountains Over Lake)
estimate: $9,000–12,000
result: $10,000

CARL SCHMIDT, Vellum plaque (Schooner) | ragoarts.com

Carl Schmidt

Vellum plaque (Schooner)
estimate: $8,000–12,000
result: $9,375

STURGIS LAURENCE, rare Iris Glaze plaque (Steamboat on the Ocean) | ragoarts.com

Sturgis Laurence

rare Iris Glaze plaque (Steamboat on the Ocean)
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $9,216

OLGA REED, Iris Glaze vase with lotuses and overlay | ragoarts.com

Olga Reed

Iris Glaze vase with lotuses and overlay
estimate: $6,000–9,000
result: $8,960

CARL SCHMIDT, Dawn! Vellum plaque | ragoarts.com

Carl Schmidt

Dawn! Vellum plaque
estimate: $7,500–9,500
result: $8,750

SALLIE TOOHEY, rare Decorated Mat charger with landscape | ragoarts.com

Sallie Toohey

rare Decorated Mat charger with landscape
estimate: $5,000–7,000
result: $8,750

OLGA REED, Painted Mat vase with maple leaves and seeds | ragoarts.com

Olga Reed

Painted Mat vase with maple leaves and seeds
estimate: $4,000–6,000
result: $8,320

CARL SCHMIDT FOR ROOKWOOD POTTERY, Exceptional and large Iris Glaze vase | ragoarts.com

Carl Schmidt for Rookwood Pottery

Exceptional and large Iris Glaze vase
estimate: $12,500–17,500
result: $8,125

KATARO SHIRAYAMADANI, Flambé/Black Opal vase with crawfish in reeds | ragoarts.com

Kataro Shirayamadani

Flambé/Black Opal vase with crawfish in reeds
estimate: $6,000–9,000
result: $8,125

EDWARD T. HURLEY FOR ROOKWOOD POTTERY, Vellum vase with fish | ragoarts.com

Edward T. Hurley for Rookwood Pottery

Vellum vase with fish
estimate: $2,000–3,000
result: $8,125