Red Wing Art Pottery
The history of the Red Wing, Minnesota potteries began in 1877 with the production utilitarian stoneware. Also produced from the beginning were art ware pieces. Although there are examples of earlier art ware, the first known catalog of art ware was distributed in 1894. This catalog included both unglazed and brushed ware items. These pieces would be the foundation of Red Wing art pottery and would eventually evolve to include lines of glazed and hand-painted pottery. From 1929 until 1967, the potteries in Red Wing produced nearly 2,000 shapes of art pottery in an astonishing variety of designs, sizes, and colors.
The “Artware Division” of the Red Wing Union Stoneware Company (RWSC) began in earnest in 1894 with the publication of a catalog listing an extensive line of unglzed terra cotta and brushed ware. Some of the brushed ware were hand-painted after firing. These early pieces included a wide range of products: sand jars, umbrella stands, urns, lawn vases, and garden wares such as flower pots and bird baths.
“The Red Wing Line”
The 1929 Red Wing Stoneware catalog published “The Red Wing Line”, which included the already established Brushed Ware and the new Glazed Ware. The line consisted of 78 pieces of Glazed Ware and 42 pieces of Brushed Ware in many different styles: Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, and Egyptian motifs. This Glazed Ware would be the foundation for art pottery creation and production until 1967.
Glazed Ware pieces used high-gloss glazes in dark blue (almost black), bright yellow, mulberry, light blue and dark green. As the chemicals for the glazes were hand mixed, there are many variations as to the exact color after firing. The unusual Nokomis (no hyphen) glaze was created by mixing and blending tones of gray, tan, and green glaze that fired to a high metallic-like finish.
Red Wing’s Brushed Ware came in three finishes: Bronze-Tan, Dark Green-Tan, and Light Green-Tan.
In the 1930s, sales of utilitarian stoneware lines slowed with the introduction of glass storage containers, the widespread use of refrigeration, and the Great Depression. In response to the decreased demand for utilitarian stoneware items, the potteries of Red Wing expanded their art pottery production and added dinnerware lines.
George Rumrill, founder of RumRill Potteries (1929) in Little Rock, AR, partnered with Red Wing Union Stoneware (in 1936 the business name changed to Red Wing Potteries) from 1932 to 1937 as a manufacturer for RumRill designs. The Rumrill partnership offered an opportunity for an expanded market presence. Working with Rumrill, Red Wing Union Stoneware Company was able to reintroduce existing art ware shapes, develop new ones, and create new glazes. Pieces produced for Rumrill were usually incised bottom marked with “RumRill”. The Red Wing Potteries relationship with Rumrill dissolved in 1937; but, his creations gave the company more national exposure.
Red Wing’s primary art pottery designers were Belle Kogan and Charles Murphy. Over the next 30 years, in addition to Kogan and Murphy, other talented Red Wing art pottery designers created some of today’s most collectible Red Wing Art Pottery.
Belle Kogan, a New York-based industrial designer, received her first Red Wing commission in 1938 to design 150 pieces. From these pieces, Red Wing chose 100 pieces known as the “Belle Kogan 100.” The line featured new shapes, colors, and designs. Following the success of these pieces, Kogan created the Terra-Craft Pottery line in 1939. This 14 piece line featured classic lines and appeared to be hand-thrown when they were actually slip-cast molded. In 1940, Kogan’s Magnolia Line (24 pieces) was released. This line included candlesticks, console bowls, and vases molded with magnolia blossoms in relief. They were ivory glaze with an antiqued matte brown, green, or oxblood detailing.
In 1940, Charles Murphy was hired as design director. He first focused on new hand-painted dinnerware designs. He also saw an opportunity for more art pottery sales with an expensive line for jewelry stores and exclusive retailers. With this market in mind, he introduced gray and tan engobe pieces with glossy turquoise embellishments. In 1942, Red Wing Potteries catalog included a high-relief vase series with an Art Deco style. Under Murphy’s guidance the Red Wing Potteries also created other vases, figurines, planters, bowls, candlesticks, and more. The U.S. participation in World War II slowed art pottery production because some of the metal ores used to make glazes were rationed and had shipping restrictions.
In 1947 Red Wing Potteries featured new Murphy designs in their catalog with the “crackle glaze” on new modernist shapes. The pieces used glaze that separated during firing; then pieces were wiped with India ink to give the crackled appearance. They were available in Crackled White, Crackled Turquoise, or Crackled Chartreuse glazes. Charles Murphy left Red Wing Potteries in 1949 for a four-year stint as designer at Stetson Pottery in Lincoln, Ill.
With the departure of Charles Murphy, Red Wing Potteries contracted again with Belle Kogan for two new lines, Tropicana and Textura in 1950 that included vases, window boxes, and bowls. The Tropicana line pieces featured raised flower designs: bird of paradise, shell ginger, and desert flower. The Textura line featured pieces with textured surfaces. Many of Kogan’s pieces during this time were marked with a “B” preceding the shape number.
Red Wing’s art pottery continued to include new modernist forms that featured the sleek linear style and pastel glaze pallet (pink, turquoise, green and yellow) that reflected the decorating pallet of the decade. In 1953, Red Wing Potteries celebrated their 75th Anniversary with a special series (known today as the “2300” series) offering new shapes with over-lay glazes – grey over luster burgundy and white over luster black.
Charles Murphy returned in 1953 to Red Wing Potteries. Murphy introduced designs with the Fleck glazes in 1954 and carved Sgraffito in 1955. The Flecks line used the pastel glaze- Zephyr Pink, Yellow, Light Gray, Nile Blue, Colonial Buff, and Light Celadon – that encompassed tiny specks of dark brown. Sgraffito pieces were layered with multiple glazes then, before firing, layers were carved away to reveal the glaze color below. Like Belle Kogan’s designs, many of Murphy’s piece numbers were prefaced with an “M”.
In addition to Kogan and Murphy’s contributions, Red Wing created a number of ashtrays for their production line in the 1950s. Ashtrays were available in an endless glaze palette, single to several blended colors, and in all shapes: animals, geometric, wings, teepees, and other modern shapes. Among the ashtrays, the most collectible include the wing-shaped “Pretty Red Wing” featuring an Indian maiden and three Minnesota Twins World Series pieces. The 1957 Red Wing Potteries catalog included a huge spread of different ashtrays.
Charles Murphy’s 1957 Garden Club line featured single-colored, matte glazed vases and bowls in black, brown, gray, pink, blue and green. Finishing out the decade was the hand-painted “Jolly Jars” series. These jars were produced in sets of three and available in three finishes.
1960 – 1967 the last years for Red Wing Potteries.
In 1960, Red Wing attempted to streamline their art pottery with the creation of two product categories: Floraline (91 pieces) and Stereoline (27). Floraline incorporated previous glazes on new and old shapes while Stereoline pieces were finished in colorful new glazes.
Charles Murphy’s Decorator Line, available in 1959, was finished in Crystalline glazes and Chromoline Hand-painted glazes of the early 1960s. In addition to these Murphy lines, the talented Red Wing designers created the Birch Bark Line in 1960. These pieces featured a birch mark relief on canoe and log shape planters and vases. In 1961 Murphy created Cowboy A and B, full-figured cowboy shape wall hangers.
Belle Kogan, in 1962, created Prismatique that featured a unique geometric style and angular designs. The style was available in 15 different shapes and 5 different sizes. In 1963 Kogan’s Belle Line featured a color pallet of a chocolate-colored glaze outside with a white textured overlay and a yellow glazed lining. Red Wing Potteries also released four designs featuring a vase and several bowls decorated with applied cherubs.
Charles Murphy’s, 1965 Bronze and 1966 Monarch, were his last creations for Red Wing. Bronze line feature classic shapes with a rich glossy crackle glaze; Monarch, included eight shapes using the Contemporary Blue and Gothic Green glazes.
By 1967 the Red Wing Potteries were suffering from an aging facility, slowing sales because of imports, and union issues. They continued to produce art pottery and dinnerware until 1967when an extended strike closed their doors forever. In more than 90 years of production, the Red Wing potteries produced many interesting and beautiful pieces of stoneware, art pottery, and dinnerware that are desired by today’s collectors.