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Originally built as a place where she and other women could enjoy their hobby of decorating pottery, Longworth’s aspirations quickly rose beyond having pottery as just a hobby. With money from the homefront to help her along the way, she made Rookwood Pottery one of America’s first major industries to be owned and operated by a woman. And business quickly developed. The pottery was instantly recognized for its quality craftsmanship and glazing. She immediately hired Henry Farny, a well-known painter of American Indian subjects, as a full-time decorator. Three years later she named William Watts Taylor as manager of the pottery. An astute businessman, it was under Taylor’s leadership the pottery reached its peak. He reorganized sales methods and made Rookwood the first pottery to hire a chemist to develop the unique glazes the pottery is known for. He encouraged innovation and risk-taking and paid special attention to the pottery markings, which added to its appeal to collectors. He brought in professional artists and let them build a career around painting pottery. One of his artists, Kataro Shirayamadani, worked as one of the pottery’s outstanding painters from 1890 until his death at age 93 in 1947. Always on the forefront, Rookwood developed innovative techniques, one of the first of which was the use of an atomizer, which operated much like an airbrush, for application of the glaze. The glazing techniques were closely guarded and sometimes patented secrets. The distinctive green and golden tints of the Rookwood glazes came from blending base pigment with Ohio Valley clay. In 1891 the old schoolhouse near the river flooded and a new building — a massive Tudor building on the edge of Mount Adams — was built. At the time, Rookwood employed more than 50 artists. By that time Longworth had married Bellamy Storer Jr. and had begun showing less and less interest in the business, eventually transferring ownership to Taylor, although still maintaining a studio for herself. Taylor continued running the business until his death in 1913. A commercial architecture department was added to the pottery in 1902 to produce the decorative flatware pieces used in commercial buildings across the country. Rookwood tiles decorate the Carew Tower, Union Terminal and Dixie Terminal in Cincinnati. The Vanderbilt Hotel, Grand Central Station and several subway stops in New York City are also decorated with Rookwood tiles, as are the Mayo Clinic and Lord and Taylor. Master Rookwood potter Earl Menzel even created a plaque for the cornerstone of Procter & Gamble’s world headquarters, inscribing the first line of the Bible in 43 languages. Many of the flat pieces were also used around fireplaces in homes in Greater Cincinnati and can still be found in older houses. The pottery tried to balance the two divisions: commercial to pay the bills and art to build the name. The 1920s were highly prosperous years for Rookwood. The pottery employed about 200 workers, and 4,000 to 5,000 visitors made the trip to the Mount Adams business each year. Almost every local bride had a piece of Rookwood among her wedding gifts. Even Mark Twain, who admittedly was not an art collector, visited the pottery and went on a shopping spree. Most of the pottery’s products were expensive, although it did make some inexpensive mass-produced items. When the Depression hit, though, it didn’t matter what the price was. The company was hit hard. Architects couldn’t afford Rookwood tiles and mantels. Mass production potters churned out cheap look-alikes. By 1934 the company showed its first loss, and by 1936 it was operating an average of just one week a month. On April 17, 1941, it filed for bankruptcy. The pottery went through a series of salvations by hopeful owners. A group of businessmen led by Walter Schott (father-in-law of Marge) bought the pottery and gave it to the Institutium Divi Thomae, a scientific, educational and research foundation under the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. The commercial corperation was split off and transferred to Sperti Inc., a company operated by Dr. George Sperti, director of the Institutium. Sperti later sold it to local businessmen William MacConnell and James Smith. None of them could make Rookwood profitable. Herschede Hall Clock Co. bought the business in 1959 and, in a final revival attempt, moved it to Starkville, Mississippi, in 1960. By 1967, though, it was out of business for good. The legacy of Rookwood lives on, however. Pottery is still sold at auctions locally. The Art Museum occasionally holds special Rookwood exhibits. And, if nothing else, it has turned into a darn good restaurant
Legacy of Rookwood Pottery:
Rookwood Pottery Has A Distinguished Past
Today, the kilns are cool. Air conditioning, in fact, is pumped into the stone cylinders that once cooked some of the world’s most prized clay. Tables sit in the center of the ovens and waiters and waitresses breeze in and out. The Rookwood Pottery is now a restaurant.
Not long ago, however, Cincinnati’s Rookwood Pottery was a different place. It was one of the centers of Cincinnati, a place where every visiting dignitary and VIP visited. It was a place where the artistic pottery that came out of the kilns was
compared to art glass from Tiffany. It was also a place that helped put Cincinnati on the international art map.
Rockwood pottery is still being made today even though the original factory site now operates as a restaurant.
While Cincinnati’s foremost artists and art institutions were still in their infancy or just developing their reputation, the Rookwood was creating masterpieces that were recognized worldwide for their brilliance. In such
prestigious international competitions as the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris, the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo and the 1901 Exposition International de Ceramique et de Verrerie in St. Petersburg, Russia, Rookwood pottery swept the awards.
Even today, the embodiment of Maria Longworth’s work and dreams are still recognized as treasures and highly sought by museums and private collectors. In fact, in 1980, 100 years after its founding, a piece of Rookwood pottery sold for $23,000 at an auction at Christie’s in New York, setting a world record price for pottery.
Rookwood Pottery was born on Thanksgiving Day 1880 when Maria Longworth pulled the first of thousands of pieces of pottery from the kiln. The granddaughter of Nicholas Longworth and daughter of Judge Joseph Longworth, Maria formed the business after being snubbed by a group of 11 other women who formed a pottery club. Her father bought her an old schoolhouse along Eastern Avenue near the river, which she named “Rookwood” after her family’s Walnut Hills estate.