Rago is honored to present The Ellison Collection on February 28th, featuring over 140 works from the collection of Robert A. Ellison, Jr.

An artist, collector, and champion of ceramics, Bob Ellison donated over 600 pieces to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in his lifetime, effectively transforming their holdings in American art pottery, late 19th and early 20th century European ceramics, and modern and contemporary works in clay. Accompanied by a print catalog, this curated sale traces Ellison's interests from early Dedham crackleware to groundbreaking sculptural work by Peter Voulkos, and tells the story of his collecting journey through essays by his wife, Rosaire Appel, his daughter, Hillary Ellison, David Rago, and Dr. Martin Eidelberg.

Bob Ellison: An Apostle of Individuality

by Dr. Martin Eidelberg

Bob Ellison painting in his New York studio

When my colleagues and I were working on the catalogue of Bob’s collection of American pottery for The Met, while discussing George Ohr, we came upon the subtitle of his book on Ohr: The Apostle of Individuality. Suddenly, as in a moment of divine inspiration, we all realized that this epithet suited Bob and used it as the title of our essay recounting the story of his life. He was indeed the apostle of individuality. I don’t remember him ever commenting on the wisdom of our choice, but I have a feeling that he would have been pleased. Certainly, it fit him to a “T.” Bob’s Texas background left a Western imprint on him. I saw him as a Hollywood cowboy—independent, strong, laconic. He did not conform to others’ norms, but I also discovered that there was a warm, empathetic streak that ran through him as well.

Bob was resolute in the projects he undertook; once started, he could not be stopped. Early on, Hugh Robertson’s sang-de-boeuf glazes caught his attention, and that led him to assemble a large collection of CKAW and Dedham vases with monochromatic glazes, in an amazing spectrum of colors and varied shapes. Moreover, once interested in Robertson’s sang-de-boeuf glazes, he extended his search to include French ceramists such as Ernest Chaplet and Adrien Dalpayrat who sought the rare dragon’s blood color. Bob’s curiosity was boundless, his universe expansive. 

American Ceramics

Bob's Collection: The Journey of a Lifetime

by Rosaire Appel

Bob Ellison and Rosaire Appel

“My hand just seemed to reach for it,” Bob said in an interview. For me this perfectly describes the kind of magnetic attraction ceramics had for him. He would see a pot before he knew he had seen it. And he was always on the lookout; it was second nature. Flea markets, yardies, estate sales, country auctions—I remember a barn sale, a huge, cavernous space. Coming in from the bright sun all I saw was a jumble of 'stuff' but Bob instantly spotted a ceramic pitcher on a high shelf as if it had a halo around it.

Until I met Bob I hadn't looked twice at ceramics. It’s not that I disliked them, they were simply invisible. My preferences were two-dimensional, often black and white and ink-oriented. Soon I recognized that ceramics is a language, an extremely enduring non-verbal language which has been used throughout the world since before recorded history right up through the present.

European Ceramics

My Dad, the Collector

by Hillary Ellison

Bob Ellison playing guitar with a young Hillary Ellison seated on his lap

Dad thought of himself as a hunter. Although his real hunting days had ended long ago as a young man in Fort Worth, Texas, the skills of patience, determination, single mindedness, and exacting precision were re-directed towards his other passions. Those who knew him knew that he was obsessively and constantly searching, often for an interesting bottle of wine, the perfect camera accessory, or the most subtle audio equipment. And of course, always, for pots. 

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of picking through antiques stores with my father while road- tripping in New England. This was in the early 1970s, pre-internet days when many sellers did not always know what they had and the term ‘Arts and Crafts’ was not widely in use. In the early days, Dad didn't really know much either. His first purchase was a charming blue and white crackle plate with bunnies hopping around the rim. He didn't know what it was but was instinctively drawn to it. He would later learn that it was by a Massachusetts maker called Dedham and he thought that perhaps being a Dedham collector might be a fun hobby and a worthy break from his life as an artist. As Dad’s interests expanded to Hugh Robertson (Dedham’s founder), Fulper, Grueby, and the like, the scholarship caught up to the moment and revealed what he had been buying. As he would say, "the cat was out of the bag, I was collecting art pottery." 

Post War Ceramics

My Friend Bob

by David Rago

If you’re in the auction business, you make house calls. Consequently, during my 50+ years as a dealer and auctioneer in this field, I have been in more than my share of homes. If time permits, while waiting in a living room or other common area, I always make sure to look at the spines of books filling the shelves, or the edges of record albums and CDs. Dreams may be the window to one’s soul, but a glimpse at Jimi Hendrix or Gustav Mahler albums might be the next best thing.  

The same is true of the art people choose to collect. Glass buyers generally aren’t pottery people, and Grueby collectors are usually of a different breed than those gathering work by, say, George Ohr. It’s not just a matter of one’s eye, but at least as much of one’s intellect and temperament. Sometimes these categories are broadened by related work, like a Rookwood collector also buying ceramics mirrored by early Weller and Roseville. Or perhaps someone wishes to form an encyclopedic grouping of Arts and Crafts era art pottery, in which case an artist like Hugh Robertson might be a member of a larger ensemble. Such predilections say much about a client’s tastes and tendencies and have helped me over the years to both find what they want and open their eyes to the work of other artists or companies.

And then there's Bob Ellison.

The Ellison Collection

20 – 28 February 2023
11 am – 4 pm daily
333 N. Main Street

28 February 2023
11 am eastern

For more information:
609 397 9374