Ceramic Industry

The American Studio Pottery Movement

May 16, 2011

Back in the day when gold was discovered at the confluence of the Platte River and Cherry Creek in what was to become Denver, wagon trains carried settlers who had hopes and dreams of striking it rich. I live a few blocks from a major railroad freight yard and railroad lines that move goods all over the country. Much as it was in its early gold rush days, Denver is again a prominent center for transit.

I walk my dogs past these railroad lines; no matter the time of day, there are always long freight trains pulled by multiple diesel engines. Aside from the usual plethora of coal cars and chemical tank cars, there are double-stacked freight containers on their journey from major seaports to their eventual points of destination-probably major cities, then retail stores, and finally into customers’ homes. Most of these double-stacked freight containers are marked “China Overseas Shipping,” “COSCO,” “Han San Shipping,” and so on.

Most of our goods are imported from China. We are a nation of consumers of products that are made overseas. Our manufacturing base has eroded. We have no ceramic manufacturing to speak of anymore. There are a few companies left, but nowhere near what existed when ceramics was a dominant industry in this country.

Many ceramic products, particularly tableware, are no longer made here. What was once a major industry has now been replaced by potters making small volumes of dinnerware and other useable items. Each individual potter has a distinctive style, and some items are even priced correctly. American studio pottery has replaced American pottery manufacturing.

American studio pottery is a small but growing movement. Witness the La Mesa and ArtStream Trailer exhibitions each year at the NCECA conference. Both exhibits sell out over the four-day event. A small number of prominent galleries across the country currently feature exclusively contemporary American ceramics. As our economy begins to expand once again, these galleries will become the voice of American studio pottery.

Witness the many specialized sales in various parts of the country. The 16 Hands Pottery Tour, the St. Croix Pottery sale in Minnesota, and other special events too numerous to list are crucial to the success of the American studio pottery movement. Potters invite potters. Word spreads, and these events also sell out.

The demise of retail craft festivals has moved customers to seek other ways to purchase handmade American studio pottery. Potters have always been incredibly resourceful souls. Perhaps someday the freight trains that travel close to my home might have containers that are labeled “American Studio Pottery.”