Recognized for its imaginative colors and glaze techniques, Rookwood has long been regarded as America’s finest art pottery. In celebration of their recent gift to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, an exhibition of some 85 examples of Rookwood pottery from the collection of Gerald and Virginia Gordon will be on view November 15, 2003 to February 8, 2004. This unparalleled collection—138 works in all—was presented to the Museum in honor of its 125th Anniversary, and spans nearly the entire 80-year production of the Cincinnati-based manufactory. The objects vividly represent the various periods of style, innovation and design on the part of Rookwood artists. Elegant Innovations: American Rookwood Pottery, 1880-1960 explores these stylistic variations and examines the influence of international art movements such as Art Nouveau, Art Moderne and Art Deco, as well as the influences of pottery created in Persia, Japan and early America.
"This spectacular gift of Rookwood wares brings to the Museum one of the world’s most comprehensive groups of American art pottery," said Anne d’Harnoncourt, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "The Gordons have built their collection with vision and depth, and we deeply appreciate their wonderful generosity. The Museum was founded to promote the understanding of decorative and applied arts, and our ceramic holdings provide an ideal context for the Gordons’ remarkable collection."
Jack L. Lindsey, the Museum’s Curator of American Decorative Arts and organizer of the exhibition added, "The Museum has a long history of collecting artist decorated pottery beginning with the institution’s pioneering ceramics scholar and director Edwin AtLee Barber (1851-1916), who formed a close working relationship with the Rookwood factory in the late nineteenth century. We are honored to continue this tradition through the collection of Gerald and Virginia Gordon."
Among the highlights of the exhibition, installed in American gallery 119, is a large vase from 1884 depicting an underwater scene of crabs swimming amid sea grasses. Its red mahogany-colored glaze with golden highlights, known as "Tiger Eye," was developed as a "happy accident" by decorator Albert Robert Valentien and is one of Rookwood’s most rare and most celebrated colorings. A stoneware pitcher from 1888 displays the Japanese aesthetic and natural themes employed by Kataro Shirayamadani. An Art Deco vase with highly stylized flowers and tiered arches from the French Red glaze line decorated by Sara Sax in 1922 is an example of the extensive and lasting contribution of women decorators. This particular work by Sax was given in 1927 by the Women of Cincinnati to Charles Lindbergh to commemorate his historic flight to Paris.
Many of the works in the exhibition suggest affinities with other forms of art and contemporary styles. Included are decorated vases and plaques that emulate the portraiture of Old Master paintings and Native American ethnographic photographs; Art Nouveau wares decorated in floral, marine and peacock feathers in undulating and curvilinear designs; matte-glazed works with simple designs inspired by the theories of the artist, lecturer and writer Arthur Wesley Dow; and "Vellum-glazed" works inspired by the Tonalist landscape paintings of George Inness and James McNeill Whistler as well as by the photographs of Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz. The exhibition also presents a number of works on paper by the Rookwood artists.
A lavishly illustrated catalogue interpreting the Gordons’ collection, much of which will be reproduced for the first time, accompanies the exhibition. Rookwood Pottery at the Philadelphia Museum of Art: The Gerald and Virginia Gordon Collection (Publication date: November, 2003) begins with a history of Rookwood at the Museum by curator Jack L. Lindsey and a memoir by collector Gerald Gordon and his wife Virginia that describes the creation of this comprehensive collection. The book features essays by Nancy E. Owen, the author of Rookwood and the Industry of Art: Women, Culture, and Commerce, 1880-1913, addressing the history of the Rookwood factory and examining the rich variety of custom-decorated wares in the Gordons’ collection. A checklist of the entire collection, an index by decorator and a selected bibliography will also be included. The book contains 136 pages, 139 illustrations in full color and 17 in black and white. Rookwood Pottery at the Philadelphia Museum of Art will be available for purchase in cloth and paperback in the Museum Store, by calling (800) 329-4856 or by visiting the Museum’s Online Store at www.philamuseum.org. The book will be available to the trade through Antique Collectors' Club. This publication was supported by an endowment for scholarly publications established at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2002 by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and by generous gifts from an anonymous donor and other individuals. Initial funding was provided by The Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
About Rookwood Pottery and the Philadelphia Museum of Art:
Maria Longworth Nichols (1849-1932) founded the Rookwood Pottery Company in an enthusiastic response to attending the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia where she saw ceramics displayed from more than 400 foreign exhibitors, including important presentations from England, France and Japan. She persuaded her wealthy father to provide funds to open a pottery in 1880 on the outskirts of Cincinnati, named "Rookwood" after the Ohio estate where she was raised. From its beginnings, Rookwood Pottery hired artist-trained decorators and strived to be marketed as fine art. Soon after Edwin AtLee Barber (1851-1916), acting as an advisor and later curator for the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art (now the Philadelphia Museum of Art), began an ambitious acquisition program of American art ceramics. In the fall of 1888, the Museum organized the first Invitational Exhibition of New American Ceramics, at which Rookwood Pottery won two first prize gold medals. The Museum purchased three large Tiger Eye vases from the exhibition, initiating its early collection of wares from the factory. These earlier acquisitions, now joined by the Gordons’ gift, establish for the Museum one of the most significant collections of Rookwood in the country.