Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Chelsea & Dedham Pottery

Chelsea Keramic Art Works

Chelsea Keramic Pitcher 1870
This is a post about the most important Art potters that you have never heard of. I had never heard of the Robertson family before I started my homework for this post.  I will start with the Robertson's Patriarch, James Roberson. He was a Scottish born potter who came to America in 1853 to find a better life.  Once in America he continued to try and live his American dream working as a potter in different companies. First in NJ and then in Massachusetts where he finally settled with his family in Boston. During this same time he was raising three sons; Hugh, Alexander, George and training them all as potters.  
Early Red Ware from  the
 Chelsea Keramic Art Works

In 1866 James's son Alexander opened his own pottery company in Chelsea, a small city right across the river from Boston. Soon his younger brother Hugh started working with him. The brothers were making a red clay pottery called  Redware. Eventually in 1872, James retired and joined his sons at the pottery and they became the Chelsea Keramic Art Works.

4 Chelsea Keramic Art Works Pieces Made
 by Hugh Robertson

 This is the quick version. The Roberston family started making red ware without glaze and that looked like ancient Greek pots. Early pot pictured above. Thankfully the public disliked this style as much as I do and they stopped making it in 1878 and by 1880 everything had changed. 
Dragon Blood Vase
Sold for $6000 in 2004.
The brief version is that around this time James, the dad had passed away, Alexander moved away, and Hugh was experimenting with pottery glazes. Hugh had seen the Korean exhibits in the Philadelphia Exhibition and the Chinese vases with their deep red color called "Dragon's Blood" and the blue and white Ming vases with their crackled glaze.   He became obsessed with recreating these rare glazes. In fact the reason why you hardly ever see true bright red pottery is because hardly any potters can make red. In the 1880's no one on the continent could make anything closes than light reddish rose. When I say Hugh became obsessed with finding the secret formula for deep red glaze. I am talking working like a crazed mad scientist for over 10 years hours and hours a day trying to find the secret of these glazes.  

Finally his diligence paid off and he had success and made a few true red Dragon's blood vases that he felt were god enough. He also made a lot of experimental shades of red in many different textures. He also discovered how to make yellows, green, blue greens, all kinds of color combinations and a crackle glaze that would make him a huge commercial success later with Dedham Pottery. 

Hugh Robertson's best pieces are a pair of small vases named the Twin Stars of Chelsea that are now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. They have a deep cherry red color similar to the piece bellow. See the glossy rainbow finish? The even glaze coverage and even color? Hugh was able to make a little more then 10 vases with met his expectations of what true dragon's blood should look like. That's like one vase per year of blood, sweat and tears. I hope that it was all worth it. True art pottery collectors will say, yes. 

Excellent Dragon Blood Color

If you are thinking of buying a piece Look for the initials "CKAW' stamped on the bottom. You can buy a good piece of non red piece of Chelsea Keramic Art Works pottery for $100-$400.00. A Dark brown-red pieces can be bought for $600-$1,200. The true dragon's blood pieces are very rare and very pricey.

These are historical pieces that changed the art pottery world and they need to be appreciated. Sadly the prices aren't terribly high because the CKAW pieces are not traditional what I would call attractive  or pretty. Some of them look like dried lava, or like something your kid painted in preschool. Proving once again that their is more to art pottery than it's aesthetic beauty. On the other hand it's the pretty red ones that sell the most.

On Friday we'll leave red behind and be all tangled up in white and blue. With Dedham Pottery.

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