Sunday, August 23, 2015

Roseville Wincraft: Magnificent Mid-century Modern

The Roseville Pottery Company was flirting with bankruptcy in 1948, and indeed, they would shut their doors forever just six years later in 1954. Cheap imports from the pacific rim were wrecking their margins, and the style that had defined Roseville Pottery for decades was falling out of favor. It was in that environment that the Wincraft line was born.

Roseville Pottery Wincraft Vase shape 284-10

The pattern was taken from the name of the president of the company, Robert Windisch. He was looking for a new direction and a new look, and so he turned to Frank Ferrell to create a product more in line with the popular mid-century modern look. Frank created a total of 51 pieces, drawing on elements from throughout the history of Roseville Pottery. Collecting Wincraft can be almost be like collecting a microcosm of their designs. Although Frank initially intended the Wincraft line to be glazed in a semi-matt, he was over-ruled and for the first time a new thick high-glaze was used. This gave the pieces the appearance of being encased in glass, similar to pieces being produced at the time by Royal Haeger. It came in three color schemes: Azure Blue, Apricot, and Chartreuse. Commercially the Wincraft line was a flop. Merchants who traditionally sold Roseville complained that customers who normally bought Roseville could not even recognize the new glaze as Roseville, and sales plummeted.

In the intervening decades after they went bankrupt, Roseville pottery designs went out of style, and most of the existing pieces were either thrown out, broken, or sold at yard sales for ten to 15 cents. But in the late 1980's collectors of vintage and antique American art pottery rediscovered Roseville, and prices soared. They continued rising until around 2007, when the American economy tanked, and along with it much of the collectible market. But Wincraft followed it's own path. Indeed, Wincraft prices did increase somewhat with the interest in Roseville, but this particular pattern never garnered a great deal of collector interest. No one was really interested in mid-century modern style, and in fact, the flea markets and antique stores remained full of similar items. The greatest prices were paid for Art Deco and Arts and Crafts styles, mid century modern was just too current to appear valuable or collectible.

Roseville Pottery Wincraft Panther Vase, 290-11

There were two exceptions to the rule which are the Panther Vase (290-11) and the Cactus Basket (210-12). There are few examples of either, and both have been in high demand since the initial Roseville pottery revival. There are other pieces even harder to find, but with little interest their prices languished.

Roseville Wincraft Long Basket, 209-12

In the intervening years since 2007, tastes are once again changing. Many collectors have lost interest in the typical later-line Roseville Pottery patterns such as Zephyr Lily, Magnolia, or Apple Blossom. But interest has never been stronger for Roseville Wincraft. The sweeping, almost art deco lines incorporated with organic shapes, colors and glaze so typical of mid-century modern create an almost perfect storm to catch the eye of collectors. Just a few years ago these pieces languished in antique stores, but today they are hard to find. Few were sold originally, even fewer were preserved. The combination of rarity and desirability are quickly driving prices.

Large Roseville Wincraft Octagonal Bowl, 233-14

A perfect example of a truly rare piece is the Large Octagonal Bowl 233-14. There may not be more than 2-3 in existence. Only one is known to the author, and it's path can be traced back through three auctions since 2007.

Roseville Wincraft trial glaze vase, 283-8

Of course, if you are looking to the rarest of the rare, it is possible to find Wincraft pieces in a variety of trial glazes. Each piece is likely unique and it is hard to assign a value to such things. The pink and gray glazed piece above is a perfect example.

Although slowly rising, prices of Roseville Wincraft pattern will only increase as the interest in mid-century modern expands. If you are interested in putting together a collection, you should probably consider picking them up sooner rather than later.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Frank Ferrell: Forgotten Master of American Art Pottery

In the last quarter of the 19th century, the American pottery movement exploded upon the scene, centered in Zanesville and Cincinatti, Ohio. Originally based upon simple and utilitarian designs, pottery companies began expanding their lines to include art pottery, generally notable for the artwork performed on the pieces, or for the novel glaze treatments. It was not until the dawn of the 20th Century that pottery companies began to explore the pottery from a sculpture perspective, as opposed to simply a blank slate to be painted upon. Leading this movement from behind the scenes was Frank L.D. Ferrell.

Photograph of Frank Ferrel from 1925

Frank Ferrell was born in Zanesville, Ohio, on May 22, 1878. It is believed that he began working at Weller Pottery around the age of 16 or so, in 1894. At the Weller Pottery Company he would perform underslip decoration of pottery for the Louwelsa line. He left Weller in 1905.

Shortly thereafter, Frank went to the J.B.Owens Company, where he assisted them in producing the same basic pieces which he had previously decorated for Weller. His employment was short lived, and by 1908 he opened his first studio in Zanesville and called it Ferock Pottery.

1908 Ferock Pottery Vase by Frank Ferrell

His Ferock Pottery was thrown from clay from the North Dakota School of Mines, and it was here that he first experimented with sculpting pottery rather than just decorating established shapes. His pottery failed to become a commercial success, however, his unique designs caught the attention of Peters and Reed, an established commercial venture. In 1912, he began designing for Peters and Reed, where he created his first commercial art line, Moss Aztec.

Peters and Reed Moss Aztec Vase

The Moss Aztec line was very successful, and produced until 1926. The variety of designs and the deep sculpted details made it an instant hit. On selected pieces of  Moss Aztec Ferrell's signature can be found, a practice frowned upon by potteries of the period.

Franks signature "Ferrell" molded into a tall vase

By 1918 Frank had moved on to Roseville Pottery, where he would remain as art director for the rest of his career. The Roseville Pottery company had been quite successful under the direction of Frederick and Harry Rhead, however their styles tended towards European tastes. This allowed them to win many international awards, but by 1918 they saw the value of Arts and Crafts designs such as Moss Aztec. Frank Ferrell went to work immediately, creating the Sylvan line within a few months. From this point until 1952 every piece of Roseville pottery was designed by Frank Ferrell. Many consider his Art Deco work on the Futura line in 1928 to be his best work, and indeed they tend to be the most prized by collectors of vintage and antique art pottery.

Collection of Roseville Pottery Futura line from 1928

By 1935 most of the art pottery companies were closing their doors and going bankrupt due to the great depression. Even Roseville pottery was not immune, and they were barely keeping their doors open. It was in this environment that Frank Ferrell created the highest selling line from any American pottery, the Pine Cone line.

Variety of Roseville pots, Pinecone on the right

The Roseville Pottery Pinecone line was a phenomenal success, selling hundreds of thousands and saving the firm from certain failure. Today there are more collectors of Roseville pinecone than just about any other line.

Frank Ferrell died in Zanesville at the age of 83 on August 10, 1961. His legacy of pottery forms is in the many thousands, he inspired whole generations of potters, and he changed the industry forever. Although his signature rarely is seen on his work, the stamp of his creative genius shines on each and every piece.