Artware by Red Wing

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The term "industrial artware" was coined by Paul Evans (in his definitive Art Pottery of the United States) to encompass pottery that did not meet his standards for admission to the hallowed halls of Art Pottery. Strictly speaking, Art Pottery is an art movement, a subset of Arts & Crafts, an aesthetic philosophy influential roughly between 1870 and 1920. "Real" Art Pottery was made primarily to serve an aesthetic or decorative purpose, and was only secondarily utilitarian, if at all.

Nevertheless, any decorative vases or figurines made before, during or later than that era tend to be described as "art pottery" by the people who collect them. This is undoubtedly a perspective of our times. Few of us will use a prized RumRill deco vase for flowers, despite the fact that this was its sole intended purpose at the time of its manufacture, some 65 years ago. From our perspective, it is simply too complex a design–too beautiful (and too valuable)–to put to practical use.

By far and away the majority of decorative ware made at Red Wing falls into the artware category. This would even include the early glazed ware that is marked "Red Wing Art Pottery," for Evans warns us that the inclusion of the words "art pottery" in a company or product name are not to be taken automatically at face value. There are many notable exceptions, however, throughout Red Wing’s manufacturing era. I would classify the 19th century Albany-slip glazed lunch hour pieces as Art Pottery, for example, as well as the 1942 Engobe figures designed by Charles Murphy.

Perhaps more important to Red Wing collectors is their personal subjective view about what is beautiful and what is not. For every individual who is left cold by any one of the thousand or so vases made by Red Wing, there is another who is completely enraptured by it.

Nicol Knappen

After parting ways with George RumRill in December, 1937, Red Wing continued to make pottery for another thirty years. In 1938 the company commissioned New York-based industrial designer Belle Kogan to design 100 new vase shapes for production. These were aggressively marketed in the trade magazines as "the Belle Kogan 100." Kogan also designed some Red Wing lines in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1940 Charles Murphy was hired as staff designer. Prior to this association, Murphy’s career had brought him into close association with several of the top names in American pottery, including Guy Cowan, Viktor Schreckengost, and Frederick Rhead. Murphy left Red Wing in 1947, but returned to work on a free-lance basis from 1953 until the company closed in 1967. Without question, he was the major influence on the look of Red Wing pottery–both artware and dinnerware–after 1940.

It is almost impossible to categorize the more than 1,000 pieces of Red Wing artware into specific decorative movements. By and large, the products follow the design trends of their times, although many top-selling items were retained decade after decade.

Some lines clearly stand out from the crowd, however. Especially notable are the lines that were the first of the post-war era Modernism movement: the Engobe pieces, the square-based crackle series, and a series in a style referred to as mid-century high relief. In the 1960s Red Wing was especially successful interpreting the abstract design trends of the era with Charles Murphy’s Decorator line in Crystalline glazes and with Bell Kogan’s Prismatique line.

Ray Reiss

Artware items

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