Britt Aamodt

Everything's Coming Up Roseville

Everything's Coming Up Roseville | Media List


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The Old Times
December 2006

Everything's coming up Roseville

By Britt Aamodt

Collecting, like love, can strike out of the blue.

One second, a pot's a pot; the next it's an object of adoration delighting the eye and plaguing the mind until a bargain is struck, and the pot is safely tucked on the collector's shelf.

The way Gordon Hoppe tells it, his passion for Roseville Pottery began reluctantly but suddenly shifted into full pursuit.

"I knew nothing about pottery, and I didn't particularly like antiques," he said of his first antiques show. "But then I saw this guy buying pots. He said to the dealer, 'I want this one. I want this one. Set this one aside.' He was a fanatic."

The avid collector walked away with $300 in pots, Gordon and his wife Sue with an appreciation for art pottery that would span decades, cost a bundle and fill every horizontal surface in their house.

Founded by John Frederic Weaver in 1890, Roseville Pottery Company was promoted by George Young, a surefooted businessman who turned the fledgling manufactory into a prominent art pottery house that peaked in the '40s and plummeted to bankruptcy by 1954.

Like neighboring potteries Rookwood and Weller, Roseville had the advantage of location.

"It was established in what's called the Ohio pottery section," explained Sue. "That's where you have the clay to make the pots, the natural gas to run the kilns, and the rivers and railways to ship them out."

Young believed in employing the best talent he could find, often stealing art direc-tors and painters from the competition, said Gordon. In 1900 that included artist Ross Purdy, hired to develop Roseville's first true art line, called Rozane.

The line's rounded shapes and ornate, looping handles were keyed to Victorian tastes. Rozane was the name given the standard glaze, usually a dark brown background decorated with floral and animal motifs in acid greens, yellows and reds. Roseville catalogs list Rozane portrait vases among the company's most collectible. Some fetch prices in the thousands.

Collectors can feel overwhelmed by the dozens of lines the company produced in its short lifespan. Each line had a distinct name, look and personality, and lines often were produced in three dec-orator color variations.

"When we first started collecting," said Sue, "we inhaled everything we saw. But lately we've been trying to focus on certain lines and then collect only one color in each."

The Hoppes have completed sets of 1946's Zephyr Lily (51 shapes) and 1930's Jonquil (41 shapes, including three not listed in the Roseville cata-log); they are near to completing 1928's Dahlrose (44 shapes). All three feature floral patterns repeated in various lines throughout the company's history.

Roseville's most innovative line, Della Robbia, was originated in 1906 by art director Frederick Hurten Rhead, who later created Fiestaware. Della Robbia patterns were incised onto pots using a process called sgraffito, where layers of clay were carved away to reveal different colors.

The Hoppes' eight-inch Della Robbia vase is one of their prize possessions and one of their best deals.

"We were at this shop in Crosby," recalled Gordon. "And the owner brought out this Della Robbia piece with Post-It notes all over it. One showed the chip. One said it had been featured in Spinning Wheel magazine. And I said, 'Do you want to sell this?' 'Well,' she said, 'you'll have to pay the full $75.' That was a fraction of its worth."

The Depression put a damper on art pottery production. Roseville lingered for two more decades, even making a popular success of the 1935 Pine Cone line, but the rise of mass production pottery and foreign competition eventually drove it out of business.

"We keep telling ourselves we're going to cut back," said Sue. "But today we were saying how we'll have to build a second house just to store our junk."

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