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Cowan Pottery: Northeast Ohio's Contribution to Art Deco

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Cowan Pottery Studios - Green Seahorse Vase

Green Seahorse Vase, from my Collection

(© 2006; S. Mitchell; Licensed to About, Inc.)
Cowan Pottery Studios - Pink Seahorse Candlestick

Pink Seahorse Candlestick, from my Collection

(© 2006 S. Mitchell; Licensed to About, Inc.)
Cowan Pottery Studios - Taupe Vase

Cowan Pottery Taupe Vase, from my Collection

(© 2006 S. Mitchell; Licensed to About, Inc.)

Once found in high-end department stores all over America, Cowan Pottery is just beginning to be rediscovered by 20th century pottery collectors. The Art Deco style pottery was produced in Lakewood and Rocky River, near Cleveland Ohio, from 1912 to 1931. During that short period, the Cowan Pottery developed an excellent reputation for craftsmanship and design, and launched the careers of many renowned American artists.

Beginnings:

Cowan Pottery was the brainchild of ceramic artist, R. Guy Cowan from East Liverpool, Ohio. He opened his studio in Lakewood Ohio in 1912 with just three kilns, making all of the work himself. The operation grew until in 1920, he moved his workshop to nearby Rocky River. The new facility featured nine kilns as well as a small showroom and employed up to 30 artists.

The studio prospered in the 1920s and Cowan Pottery was sold via 1200 outlets throughout the United States, including Marshall Field in Chicago, Halle Brothers in Cleveland, Kaufmann's in Pittsburgh, and Wannamaker's in Philadelphia.

Cowan in its Heydey:

Cowan Pottery is best known for its 1920s Art Deco tableware line, which included vases, candlesticks, console sets, flower bowls and frogs, and candy dishes. By the late 1920s, Cowan was producing around 175,000 pieces each year, ranging from unlimited stock items to one-of-a-kind art pieces.

The End:

The economic hardships of the Great Depression eroded Cowan's, largest middle class, market. The studio closed in 1931 and the artists scattered. Cowan, himself, went to work as the head designer for Syracuse Pottery, where he was instrumental in developing their mass market dinnerware line.

850 Shapes and 160 Glazes:

Cowan Pottery is known for its huge number of shapes and glazes. It was common for one item, such as a vase or a candlestick, to be reproduced in dozens of glazes and finishes. Cowan's over 850 shapes ranged from oriental to Art Nouveau to Victorian, but all carried a smattering of Art Deco influence. The studio's 160 glazes ran the gamut from cream to Oriental red, with a rainbow of colors and textures in between.

Illustrious Alumni:

Among the 30+ artists who designed for Cowan Pottery Studios are some of the more famous of the early to mid-20th century. They include Viktor Schreckengost, who at 100 years of age was still designing, sculpting, and painting. He is best known for his "Jazz Bowls," which he designed for Cowan as well as his later work as an industrial designer.

Schreckengost designed the first mass-produced dinnerware (for American Limoges), a radar detection device in World War II, and the first cab-over-engine truck (for White Motors). Another Cowan alumnus was Waylande Gregory, an Art Deco sculptor whose work can be found in the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Cleveland Museum of Art, among other places.

The Cowan Museum:

Cowan Pottery Studios' work is on view to the public at the Cowan Museum, located in the Rocky River (Ohio) public library, just west of Cleveland. The museum, opened in 1978, houses over 1100 Cowan pieces, which are rotated regularly between the exhibits and storage. The museum is open during regular library hours and is admission is free.

Collecting Cowan Pottery:

Cowan Pottery can be frequently found at estate sales and auctions throughout the Midwest and on online auction sites, such as eBay and Yahoo! Auctions. Tableware pieces, such as candlesticks, vases, and compotes, are the most plentiful and generally carry the lowest prices. Small tableware items can be found for under $15. Prices vary depending on the glazed used, with the rarer glazes fetching the highest prices.

Art pieces, such as animals and figures, and rare items such as animal bookends, when found, are often priced in the $1000s. Still, compared to other Midwestern 20th century pottery, such as Roseville and McCoy, collecting Cowan Pottery is much more affordable.

(last updated 10-2-12)

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