Roblin Pottery

San Francisco-based Roblin Pottery was one of the earliest California art potteries. Founded in 1898 by Alexander W. Robertson and Linna Irelan, its name was derived from the first syllables of Robertson’s surname and Irelan’s first name.

Alexander Robertson began his career as a founding member of Chelsea Keramic Art Works in Chelsea, Massachusetts and was already an accomplished potter before moving to the San Francisco area in 1884. He initially worked as a potter in Oakland until 1891 and did not partner with Irelan until later that decade. Irelan, a German immigrant, studied at the California School of Design and was an accomplished watercolorist. Her husband was a state geologist, leading her to an interest in California clays. She published an article about local clays in the 1890s in one of her husband’s publications, which is perhaps how Robertson became acquainted with her.

Their wares were of modest size and characterized by refined, simple forms, muted colors, and minimal decoration. Robertson threw the pots and Irelan applied the decor, which were often floral motifs, mushrooms, or lizards. Their staff remained small and included Alexander’s son, Fred, by 1903. The pottery submitted works at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900, and won Irelan an honorable mention. Roblin Pottery was short-lived, becoming one of many businesses destroyed in the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake and subsequent horrific fire, after which Irelan retired from ceramics altogether and Alexander and his son moved south to Los Angeles. Fred Robertson would go on to develop his own independent line of high-fired, crystalline-glaze pottery.

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