Important Scenic Tiles

Arthur Baggs at Marblehead Pottery

“Mr. Baggs, A.I. Hennessey, Miss Maude Milner and Miss Annie Aldrich have been the designers, and their aim in decoration has been to avoid the naturalistic and to adapt severely conventionalized design to the rigid requirements of pottery...At the same time stiffness has been avoided, and while they have not painted pictures on their pottery they have conventionalized nature without losing its grace.”—Jonathan Rawson, “Recent American Pottery,” House Beautiful, April 1912

Chemist, potter, and artist Arthur Eugene Baggs was hired at Marblehead Pottery in 1905 by its founder, Dr. Herbert Hall. He later purchased the pottery business from Hall in 1915 and remained director until its closure in 1936. In a May 1908 Keramic Studio article, Hall praised Baggs as the “leading spirit” of the enterprise and, given Baggs’ leadership position, it is only natural that his design sensibilities, heavily influenced by those of Arthur Wesley Dow, would prevail in the studio.

Dow was a native of Ipswich, Massachusetts, located just 16 miles away from Marblehead. An accomplished artist and commercial designer, he founded the Ipswich Summer School of Art in 1891, which lasted for 15 years and enrolled upwards of 200 students per year. Dow had trained in the United States and Paris but grew tired of the prevailing artistic style and found inspiration from the Japanese ukiyo-e prints he encountered at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Eschewing the notion that art must imitate nature, he instead developed his own principles and artistic exercises based on the abstract interrelationship of line, hue, and tone. He published his seminal art theory book, Composition: A Series of Exercises Selected From a New System of Art Education, in 1899; enormously influential, it remains in print to this day. The book was disseminated throughout libraries, schools, and studios across the United States and was very likely part of the Marblehead Pottery studio’s library. Dow also published a series of Ipswich marsh prints between 1901 and 1906, providing further artistic inspiration for artists and studios both near and far.

Arthur Wesley Dow, Composition, pg. 33

Arthur Wesley Dow, Composition, pg. 35

This set of tiles features a strikingly Dow-esque scene of poplar trees and their reflections in a pond. The continuous landscape is divided into two square vignettes and executed in a palette of subdued earth tones, colors inspired by the New England sea coast and in accordance with the prevailing Arts and Crafts style. Parallels between Dow’s teachings and Baggs' design are apparent as, per Dow's teachings, Baggs employed light and dark tones as well as contrasting sizes of trees in his composition. These scenic tiles are rare and most often surface alone; the present lot is one of only two known complete sets, the other held in the permanent collection of Museum of the American Arts & Crafts Movement, St. Petersburg.

Marblehead Pottery

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.

Auction Results Marblehead Pottery