California Dreaming

Alexander Robertson and Halcyon Art Pottery

Halcyon Art Pottery wares on display, c. 1912

Around the turn of the 20th century, countless artists and ceramists from the central and eastern United States were drawn inexorably to California's Mediterranean climate, spectacular vistas, and the unique variant of the Arts and Crafts style developing there. Alexander Robertson was one such person. An accomplished potter who had begun his career as a founding member of Chelsea Keramic Art Works in Chelsea, Massachusetts, he moved to California in 1884. After the demise in 1906 of his short-lived enterprise with Linna Irelan, dubbed Roblin Pottery, as a result of the great San Francisco earthquake and fire, he moved south to pursue other ventures. 

Located near Pismo Beach, Halcyon cooperative colony was founded in 1903 by a Theosophical group from Syracuse, New York. They established Halcyon Art Pottery as one of the community’s industries in 1909 with assistance from Adelaide Robineau, who provided them with two kilns. Robertson was hired as instructor and pottery director in 1910 and the first kiln firing was displayed the following year. Relying on local red clays, he continued in a style similar to that of Roblin; pots were mostly modest in size, bisque-fired (rarely glazed), and decorated with regional flora and fauna. Most of the wares produced at Halcyon were decorated by students, with lizards being the most popular subject, but Robertson himself made a diverse number of pieces, from vases to incense burners to whistles. The present lot is incredibly rare, not just because a paucity of Halcyon pottery was ever made, let alone survived, but because of its uncommon embellishment of hand-modeled elephants.

Robertson departed the pottery in 1912 to join Alberhill Coal and Clay Company near Los Angeles, and Halcyon Art Pottery was forced to close in 1913 due to issues within the community. It was revived briefly in the 1930s under new leadership but could not sustain itself and ended permanently in the early 1940s.