Frederick Hurten Rhead 1880–1942

Any history of American ceramics would be woefully incomplete without mention of English potter, designer, decorator, teacher, and author Frederick Hurten Rhead. Born in England in 1880, he hailed from a long line of Staffordshire potters that extended back to the eighteenth century. Rhead trained in ceramic techniques and ceramic history and was a voracious reader who continuously kept abreast of developments in the field. During his formative years at English potteries he learned the difficult “squeeze-bag” technique—the careful squeezing of clay through a tube onto ceramic wares—which he would carry with him through his entire career.

Rhead immigrated to the United States in 1902 and took up his first position as manager of artistic wares at Avon Faience Company in Ohio. It was there that he first introduced the squeeze-bag technique to the American ceramic vernacular, teaching it to the decorators who would then apply his designs to the pottery. Though his designs were received favorably, Avon’s art pottery efforts did not last long and Rhead departed in 1904 for Ohio-based Weller Pottery. He stayed at Weller for less than a year but developed three unique new lines that incorporated elements of other styles he saw at rival potteries. One of the enduring hallmarks of Rhead’s career, in fact, was his ability to not only remain informed on emerging techniques and trends, but to synthesize them into his own unique visual vocabulary.

Rhead departed Weller to serve as art director for nearby Roseville Pottery in 1904, where he would remain for four years. While at Roseville he continued pursuing squeeze-bag decoration but also explored new decorations and introduced many novel shapes for vessels. Perhaps his greatest triumph at Roseville, and one that is highly desired by collectors today, was the Della Robbia line. Named for Renaissance ceramist and sculptor Luca della Robbia, it was a time-consuming and eye-catching technique involving multiple castings, carving, and the careful application of as many as five different colored glazes. The technique was so difficult, and the designs so complex, for Roseville’s decorators that Rhead had to train local female art students from scratch; many extant pieces bear the initials of these unidentified decorators, a common occurrence at other potteries and in keeping with the Arts and Crafts movement’s appreciation of every hand, from designer to decorator.

In 1908, Rhead left Roseville in need of a respite from the enormous demands of working for such large-scale commercial enterprises. He joined his friend and colleague, William Jervis, at Jervis’ modest pottery in Oyster Bay, New York, where he spent about a year creating diminutive pots, exploring and perfecting the many techniques and styles he had learned to that point in a wide range of motifs from conventionalized flora to geometricized landscapes. During this relative lull in his career he finally found time to write, and in 1909 published an important study on matte glazes for the American Ceramic Society.

That same year, he accepted Edward G. Lewis’ invitation to join his educational project at University City near St. Louis, Missouri. Rhead joined fellow masters Taxile Doat and Adelaide Robineau, among others, in their quest to create the best art pottery in the world. Unlike his colleagues, however, Rhead was also responsible for teaching classes and correspondence courses at Lewis’ school in addition to writing a manual entitled Studio Pottery, which was published by Lewis’ People’s University Press in 1910. The University City period was brief but tremendously fertile, and his output from that time is considered to be some of the most important and artistic pottery ever produced in the United States.

Auction Results Frederick Hurten Rhead

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR UNIVERSITY CITY, exceptional vase with stylized trees | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for University City

exceptional vase with stylized trees
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $25,000

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR ROSEVILLE POTTERY, umbrella stand with peacock | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Roseville Pottery

umbrella stand with peacock
estimate: $1,500–2,000
result: $21,250

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR AREQUIPA POTTERY, vase with leaves | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Arequipa Pottery

vase with leaves
estimate: $5,000–7,000
result: $15,000

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR ROSEVILLE POTTERY, exceptional tall Della Robbia vase with courtier | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Roseville Pottery

exceptional tall Della Robbia vase with courtier
estimate: $9,000–12,000
result: $15,000

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR ROSEVILLE POTTERY, large reticulated Della Robbia vase with daffodils | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Roseville Pottery

large reticulated Della Robbia vase with daffodils
estimate: $4,000–6,000
result: $11,250

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR AREQUIPA POTTERY, Rare landscape tile | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Arequipa Pottery

Rare landscape tile
estimate: $9,000–12,000
result: $9,375

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR RHEAD POTTERY (SANTA BARBARA), Exceptional three-footed vessel | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Rhead Pottery (Santa Barbara)

Exceptional three-footed vessel
estimate: $7,500–10,000
result: $8,750

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR ROSEVILLE POTTERY, large Della Robbia vase with stylized flora | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Roseville Pottery

large Della Robbia vase with stylized flora
estimate: $8,000–12,000
result: $8,750

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR ROSEVILLE POTTERY, Della Robbia vase with hunting scene | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Roseville Pottery

Della Robbia vase with hunting scene
estimate: $7,000–9,000
result: $8,450

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR JERVIS POTTERY, rare peacock vase | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Jervis Pottery

rare peacock vase
estimate: $2,500–3,500
result: $8,125

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR AREQUIPA POTTERY, Fine vase | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Arequipa Pottery

Fine vase
estimate: $7,500–10,000
result: $7,500

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR ROSEVILLE POTTERY, large three-handled Della Robbia vase with storks | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Roseville Pottery

large three-handled Della Robbia vase with storks
estimate: $3,000–4,000
result: $6,875

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR ROSEVILLE POTTERY, Della Robbia vase | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Roseville Pottery

Della Robbia vase
estimate: $2,000–3,000
result: $6,875

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR WELLER POTTERY, Fine and large Faience vase squeezebag-decorated | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Weller Pottery

Fine and large Faience vase squeezebag-decorated
estimate: $3,000–4,000
result: $6,250

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR ROSEVILLE POTTERY, Rare experimental vase squeezebag-decorated | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Roseville Pottery

Rare experimental vase squeezebag-decorated
estimate: $2,000–3,000
result: $6,250

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR UNIVERSITY CITY, Rare bowls, set of two | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for University City

Rare bowls, set of two
estimate: $5,000–7,000
result: $5,938

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR AREQUIPA POTTERY, Fine low vessel | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Arequipa Pottery

Fine low vessel
estimate: $5,000–7,500
result: $5,625

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR ROSEVILLE POTTERY, Reticulated Della Robbia vase | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Roseville Pottery

Reticulated Della Robbia vase
estimate: $3,500–4,500
result: $5,000

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR ROSEVILLE POTTERY, exceptional Della Robbia low bowl with sea creatures | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Roseville Pottery

exceptional Della Robbia low bowl with sea creatures
estimate: $3,500–4,500
result: $5,000

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR RHEAD POTTERY (SANTA BARBARA), table lamp | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Rhead Pottery (Santa Barbara)

table lamp
estimate: $5,000–7,000
result: $4,688

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR AREQUIPA POTTERY, vase with leaves | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Arequipa Pottery

vase with leaves
estimate: $1,000–1,500
result: $4,063

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR AREQUIPA POTTERY, Small vase | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Arequipa Pottery

Small vase
estimate: $4,000–6,000
result: $4,063

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR ROSEVILLE POTTERY, Della Robbia vase with spider chrysanthemums | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Roseville Pottery

Della Robbia vase with spider chrysanthemums
estimate: $3,000–4,000
result: $3,900

FREDERICK HURTEN RHEAD FOR JERVIS POTTERY, vase with stylized trees | ragoarts.com

Frederick Hurten Rhead for Jervis Pottery

vase with stylized trees
estimate: $1,500–2,000
result: $3,750