Grueby Pottery History
Grueby Pottery of Boston, Massachusetts, may not be the first American pottery to create matte glaze, but its quality and technique of work raised Grueby Pottery to become the most recognized maker of American arts and craft art pottery. Years before the iconic Grueby matte green glaze and arts and crafts pottery became famous, the founder, William Henry Grueby, started his training at the Low Art Tile Works in 1880.
Ten years later, Grueby started his plant in Revere, Massachusetts, where he made and sold architectural faience. Although for a few short years, between 1891 and 1894, Grueby partnered with Eugene R. Atwood, Grueby soon left to reopen his venture, now named as the Grueby Faience Company. This company’s primary focus remained on producing architectural terra cotta, glazed bricks, and tiles. Nevertheless, consistent with the American arts and crafts movement, Grueby began to experiment more frequently with arts and craft pottery, developing his matte glazes and working with George Prentiss Kendrick to create the designs.
In 1897 Grueby art pottery was displayed in the exhibition of The Society of Arts & Crafts of Boston. Even though only a dozen pieces were shown, the Grueby’s art pottery popularity and renown quickly spread both in the United States and internationally. Grueby pottery grew rapidly too; in 1900, the firm displayed one hundred pieces at the 1900 Paris exposition, where they won one Silver Medal and two Gold Medals.
Several more awards followed in the next few years, including Gold Medals, won at the 1901 St. Petersburg, Russia exposition and the Grand Prize in St. Louis in 1904. The demand for Grueby art pottery prompted a growth of the company; many graduates of the Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts School, the Cowles Art School, and the Massachusetts Normal School were hired to do modeling and decoration, with each leaf and flower added on by hand. Addison B. LeBoutiller, a Boston architect, was then added as the Director of Design in 1901. The management of Grueby Pottery also expanded in 1907, from the original business manager William Hagerman Graves, to the company becoming incorporated with the president as Grueby himself and several financial advisors.
As quickly as Grueby Pottery grew, so too was the brisk ending of the art pottery production. Grueby’s art pottery success brought plenty of competition, including but not limited to Wheatley, Hampshire, Teco, Marblehead, Saturday Evening Girl, Paul Revere, Merrimac as well as the Ohio area producers such as Roseville, Weller, Rookwood, and Owens.
Grueby Pottery ultimately went bankrupt in 1908. Grueby continued some art pottery production with the help of Rookwood’s Karl Langenbeck, until 1911 when even the simplistic rebirthed company could not afford to make art pottery. Tiles and terra cotta were produced, under the name of “Grueby Faience and Tile.” This architectural kiln was surprisingly profitable, despite a fire in 1913 and the sale of the company by its own salesman, James Michael Curley in 1919. Grueby Pottery was sold out to C. Pardee Works of Perth Amboy, New Jersey, ending the short-lived legacy of the most recognized name in the American arts and crafts pottery movement.
Grueby Style and Glazes
Grueby's predominant style was conventional, naturally shaped forms onto which hand sculpted and stylized designs were either carved or placed above the surface of the pot. Markings can include artist's initials or paper labels, along with a impressed designation of Grueby Pottery, in "Boston U.S.A." or "Boston, Mass."
There is a sort of systematic quality to Grueby pottery; the pieces are well-designed, geometric, soft in glaze, and mostly hand-thrown. Like the tiles made by William Henry Grueby’s other venture, the art pottery is thick-walled made with clay from Martha’s Vineyard and New Jersey. Craftsman George Prentiss Kendrick, who was an accomplished brass and silver craftsman, developed the three-dimensional, structured floral designs. Each of art pottery was modeled by hand, with leaves, flowers, and grasses hand-decorated with thin pieces of clay or incised by lines. Other designs on Grueby art pottery include more exotic lotus flowers, plantains, and the acanthus leaf. The final hand-tooling added to Grueby pottery gives the appearance of a rough edge, yet the surface is smooth to the touch.
By the mid-1890s, Grueby perfected his matte glazes, particularly his famous Grueby green. Similar to the French Grès flammé, pottery that was dipped in opaque enamel and fired until vitrification, the Grueby glaze was matte (yet not dull), soft and varied in tone. The majority of Grueby Pottery was glazed in its famous matte cucumber Grueby green. However, Grueby used many other colors as well including yellow, blue, brown, creamy white, gray and mauve.
Some pots were finished with a flower motif glazed in another color, while others had a blended monotone. Grueby pottery ranged from vases to handled pots to paperweight scarabs. While some pottery meant for expositions stood almost three feet tall, most of the pieces were more appropriately sized for hand throwing and decoration.
Grueby Pottery Artists and Modelers
The original artists of Grueby Pottery were founder William Henry Grueby and George Prentiss Kendrick. Their accompanying business manager, William Hagerman Graves, designed at least one bowl as well, a light blue pot inspired by Japanese art, which was later shown in 1907. As an artist, Grueby specialized in the clay and glaze work of the art pottery. Even though he did assist in designing the Grueby pots as well, his better work remains to be the iconic, cucumber Grueby matte green glaze.
Likewise, Kendrick was seen as an experimenter, as he originally studied as a metalsmith and self-proclaimed architect. As Grueby’s founding design director, Kendrick’s work of five years (1897-1902) positioned Grueby Faience to be forever known as the high point of the American arts and craft movement.
Eugene Atwood worked for the Low Art Tile Company in Chelsea. He left Low in 1890 to found Awood and Grueby with William Grueby. Their partnership lasted until the summer of 1893.
Later prominent artists include Addison Brayton Le Boutillier, and the brief tenure of Karl Langenbeck. Le Boutillier initially worked freelance with Grueby pottery, first as a graphic design or marketing artist for the company in late 1900, and then as an advisor of tile design. Le Boutillier was appointed as the Director of Design at Grueby in April 1903, where he brought in more architectural design for the pottery, and artistic scenes for the tiles. Tile designs of note include the Evangelist series (1902) and “The Pines” collection in 1906.
Meanwhile, Karl Langenbeck worked with Grueby from 1908 to late 1909, as a chemist and acclaimed glaze expert. A few years prior, Langenbeck at Rookwood Pottery and helped sort out some technical difficulties with the glaze and design of the pottery, and so he was a welcome and much-needed presence at Grueby.
Other recognized modelers and decorators for Grueby Pottery include Ruth Erickson, Ellen R. Farrington, Annie V. Lingley, Lillian Newman, Gertrude Stanwood, Ellen Farrington, Gertrude Priest, Maria Seaman, Norma Peirce, and Wilhelmina Post.
French John Lavalle and Japanese Kiichi Yamada were recognized, international male modelers and artists for Grueby. Lavalle’s “Laughing Boy” bust and Moorish-inspired arts and crafts tiles brought attention to early Grueby Pottery. Yamada was believed to be affiliated with Rookwood’s Shirayamadani.
Grueby Pottery Marks
Grueby Pottery used a variety of trademarks impressed into the bottom of the pots. The early trademarks used by the company were
Atwood & Grueby
Grueby Pottery Boston, USA
The majority of Grueby Pottery has the impressed lotus flower logo that is circled by the company’s name and location. This iconic trademark was created in 1898 and has two variations to the wording. Before 1899, the circular impression reads “Grueby Faience Co., Boston, U.S.A.” After 1899, that mark was used interchangeably with the same lotus flower and the simple “Grueby Pottery, Boston, U.S.A.” With some pieces, the glaze can be heavy and obscure the lotus mark. Some Grueby pottery was marked with paper labels, and most of these labels tend to bear the lotus flower design.