Susan Frackelton 1848–1932

Susan Stuart Goodrich Frackelton of Milwaukie, Wisconsin was a pioneer in American studio ceramics and led a long, prolific, and influential life and career. Not just a great artist and ceramist, she also played a large role in promoting other women in the field and provided many contributions to the study of the craft. As a young woman, she studied landscape painting under German artist Henry Vianden before marrying Richard G. Frackelton in 1869. Like so many of her female compatriots, Frackelton started out as a china painter in the 1870s and even exhibited her work at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

Her husband owned a china, crockery, and import business, and in 1877 Frackelton started a separate china-painting division within the facilities called Frackelton’s China Decorating Works. She directed all aspects of the designs and trained many decorators, who produced up to two thousand pieces weekly. Frackelton exhibited an impressive 650-piece dinnerware set at the 1881 Milwaukie Industrial Exposition and won first prize for it at an exhibition in Orizaba, Mexico. Her notoriety and production increased, establishing a profitable business that would flourish over her career and enable her to support her family.

Frackelton possessed a seemingly indefatigable spirit. In addition to leading the Milwaukie Art School, she organized local and national china painting classes, and wrote her first book in 1886, Tried by Fire, A Work on China-Painting, which became standard reading in American ceramics courses. She was the founder and first president of the National League of Mineral Painters in 1892, a national society that enabled women to have more representation and visibility in what had been a male-dominated field. They hosted both their own regional exhibitions and promoted and sponsored both women and men in the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago and the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.

Frackelton began working in stoneware in the 1890s and exhibited several pieces at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, winning eight prizes, not just for her creations, but also for her invention of a portable kiln. She worked with native clays from Wisconsin and experimented frequently, later working in a finer, cream-colored stoneware with a distinct decorating style featuring intricate carvings of plants, flowers, or fruit in tones of blue and white. Stoneware had traditionally been used in utilitarian pieces, yet Frackelton’s considerable talent elevated the material to a new level of elegance.

In the later 1890s, Frackelton divorced her husband and moved Chicago, marking a period when she spent less time as an art potter and more in an influential role as an esteemed lecturer, writer, and educator, traveling the country establishing art organizations. Her work inspired many artists of her time and those to come, including Mary Louise McLaughlin and Adelaide Alsop Robineau. A force to be reckoned with, Frackelton’s tireless efforts as an artist, teacher, and innovator in her field, bolstered by her dedication to the Arts and Crafts ideals at the turn of the century, propelled her as a leader in the early American art pottery movement.

Auction Results Susan Frackelton