The work of America’s art potteries became the first truly American original art to find widespread success both in the United States and on the international stage.

In the decades following the Civil War, interest in art pottery grew out of the popularity of decorating china with painted designs—a pastime dominated by women. Beginning roughly with the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition of 1876, the demand for china—referred to by contemporary writers as “the ceramics craze” or “china mania”—expanded to include art pottery as an essential element of interior decoration. The industry flourished until World War I but continued even into the 1950s. All the while, American women played a very prominent role.

At its height, American art pottery enjoyed production centers in virtually every region of the country although if it had a capital, one would have to say it was in the Ohio River Valley, where the clay was right and conditions were encouraging. In the Midwest, Maria Longworth Nichols (1849–1932), a onetime amateur china painter from a wealthy family, founded Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati, but New England (Grueby), the Middle Atlantic (Fulper), and the South (Newcomb) all became sites of important potteries.

This exhibition is devoted to the superb art pottery produced by American companies now well known among historians, collectors, and connoisseurs of ceramics.