- This tall vase, made around 1900 at the Grueby Faience Company in Boston MA, represents well the influence of the Arts and Crafts aesthetic in American pottery. Boston’s Society of Arts and Crafts, established in 1897, promoted a return to handcraft production, based on the model of English reformers like William Morris and John Ruskin who sought harmony of form, decoration, and function, and an enhanced satisfaction with the handcraft tradition as an alternative to mechanical mass production.
- William Grueby (1867-1925) was a member of the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts. Beginning in 1894 his Grueby Faience Company manufactured architectural tiles and terracotta moldings for the building trade, products which received favorable publicity. Illustrated in the magazine House Beautiful in December 1898, vases were a later addition to the company’s output. The designer of the Grueby vases was silversmith George Prentiss Kendrick, but William Grueby himself developed a novel range of matt glazes. The dark green version on this vase, “like the deepest green of a very dark melon,” invites us to touch the surface. The Grueby matt green glaze became a hallmark for the company’s art pottery.
- The potter’s wheel was the only mechanical device used in the making of the Grueby vessels. Until he left the company in 1902 George Kendrick supervised the shaping of vessels on the wheel from his designs. He also supervised a team of workers who applied the plant motifs that form a relief over which the glaze breaks to reveal the light clay color underneath. Most of these modelers were young women trained in the Boston art schools.
- Since the 1870s, Boston’s wealthy and civic minded elite encouraged reform in the visual arts through education, especially through its Museum of Fine Arts three-dimensional design and decoration program, and the state run Massachusetts Normal Art School, which offered training for the art industries. Art education brought employment opportunities to an increasing number of women, and their work underpinned the American Arts and Crafts movement in enterprises such as the Cincinnati Pottery Club, the Rookwood Pottery, and Tiffany Studios, long before William Grueby began to produce his vases. Grueby Faience Company modelers frequently applied a mark of identification to a vessel, but their work was not acknowledged in exhibition catalogues.
- Grueby exhibited at the major world expositions, winning awards at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle that brought his pottery to the attention of the European market. A vase of this model was on exhibition there. Promotions by the Paris dealer Samuel Bing identified Grueby’s pottery with European art nouveau. In the United States Grueby collaborated with Tiffany & Co., most notably in the making of lamp stands, which emphasized a connection with the art nouveau style. However, in his collaboration with the furniture maker Gustav Stickley, it is Grueby’s roots in the American Arts and Crafts movement that predominate.
- William Grueby acknowledged the influence of the French potter Auguste Delaherche (1857-1940) on the development of his ceramics, and it is not hard to see prototypes among Delaherche’s work for several Grueby vessels, including this vase. Delaherche’s work provided Grueby and Kendrick with a sound model, but from that base they later produced vessels with a distinctive character of their own, especially in the glazed and modeled surfaces. In 1902, a contemporary critic, Walter Ellsworth Gray, wrote an article in Brush and Pencil that described Grueby’s wares of a type “not…designed to catch the fancy of those who delight in excessive ornamentation, high or varied colors, or elaborate patterns. It is a pottery rather that appeals to those who are fond of simplicity of design and rich but subdued monotones.”
- Grueby’s architectural moldings and tiles were made from a robust type of clay obtained from New Jersey and Martha’s Vineyard, and he used the same material for the pottery vessels. Consequently, this monumental vase is heavy, but stable, and its sturdiness affirms the handmade characteristics of Grueby wares. A strong tactile quality in the matt glaze that rolls over the surface of the vase refers us to the organic world of plant and vegetable, and at the turn of the twentieth century consumers found these qualities of harmony in form and surface immensely appealing. However, Grueby’s pots were expensive, and like most of the products of the Arts and Crafts movement, only affluent members of society could purchase these items for their homes.
- Data Source
- National Museum of American History
- Grueby Pottery
- Date made
- date made
- Physical Description
- ceramic (overall material)
- overall: 28 5/8 in x 10 1/2 in; 72.7075 cm x 26.67 cm
- Object Name