The distinguishing charm of the Marblehead pottery seems to lie in the beautiful simplicity of shape and design, and in the soft richness of color…this pottery, which already occupies a high place in the pottery craft of America, will one day, perhaps, typify the best work produced by the country, for Marblehead Pottery is traditionally, and thoroughly, American.
Gertrude Emerson, "Marblehead Pottery," The Craftsman, March 1916
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Marblehead Pottery was established in 1904 by Herbert J. Hall in the quaint coastal town of Marblehead, Massachusetts. It was originally a part of a sanitarium called the Handicraft Shops, which provided occupational therapy for its residents. Other crafts included weaving, woodworking and metalworking. However, within a year, under supervision of Arthur Eugene Baggs (pictured), the pottery became separated from the sanitarium and was operationally independent as a for-profit enterprise by 1908.
Baggs had been a student of Charles F. Binns at Alfred University’s New York State School of Clay-Working and Ceramics. Designers at Marblehead included Baggs, Arthur Irwin Hennessey, and Maude Milner. The lead decorator was Sarah Tutt, throwing the pottery was John Swallow, an accomplished potter from England, and E.J. Lewis who manned the kiln. Baggs purchased the pottery business from Herbert Hall in 1915, which continued under his direction until its close in 1936. Through the years, Marblehead would always remain a small operation, never employing more than six people.
Marblehead Pottery is known for its simple geometric patterns that often incorporate flowers and plants in stylized, abstracted motifs—an aesthetic very much in line with that of the American Arts and Crafts movement. Maritime, fish, and animal themes are further examples of subject matter routinely used. The color schemes of the pottery would usually employ a muted, simple palette of a few matte glazes. Typical glaze colors include pink, green, yellow, blue, gray, and brown. Decoration would be applied either between incised outlines or hand-drawn directly on the surface. Pottery was marked to the underside with the Marblehead stamp—a sailing ship flanked by the letters M and P. Some include the artist or designer initials. Baggs initialed specially decorated pieces or those with experimental glazes that were his personal projects.
Over the years, Marblehead was the recipient of many awards. In 1916, they won a J. Ogden Armour prize at the annual exhibition for applied arts at The Art Institute of Chicago. The Arts & Craft Society awarded Arthur Baggs with their highest medal in 1925, and he subsequently won the Charles F. Binns medal in 1928. In the years following, Marblehead won first prize for pottery at the Robineau Memorial Exhibition at the Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts in 1933, and, in 1938, won first in pottery in the National Ceramic Exhibitions at Syracuse.