Rocky River and Lakewood are considered to be one of the birthplaces of the American Art Pottery movement (1912-1931) and each month, the Rocky River Library helps educate area residents about the movement and some of its unique examples from the celebrated Cowan Pottery Studios.
The Rocky River Library, home to the largest publicly owned collection of Cowan Pottery in the world, will host a guided tour of its collection at 11 a.m. Saturday. The library holds the free tours monthly, often rotating the art pottery on display to give visitors a look at different pieces.
“Cowan Pottery is part of the story of Rocky River and of the crafts tradition in Cleveland,” said Dori Olivios, the library’s adult services manager. “[R. Guy] Cowan marketed his ceramics as fine art and enlisted the talented local artists, many of who went on to have important artistic careers. Cowan Pottery is an essential element of the history of art in Cleveland.”
The studio was founded in 1912 by Cowan in Lakewood and hosted a plethora of artists including Viktor Shreckengost, who created a line of pottery called “jazz bowls,” originally for Eleanor Roosevelt. Elsa Vick Shaw, who created a series of pieces that depicted the origin of music for Severance Hall, also worked there for a time.
At its height, the Cowan Pottery Studio had products bought and sold in stores all over the nation. Many movies of that time featured Cowan pottery pieces in the background. In 1920, the studio relocated to Rocky River, where it remained until 1931 when it closed due to financial issues.
“It was the only [pottery studio] in Cleveland during the Art Deco period,” Olivios said. “There were artists that worked for the Cowan Pottery Studio that made contributions to the Cleveland (art) community.”
In 1978, the library bought 800 pieces from a private collection, thanks to funds received from the Maude Michael estate. The collection now contains 1,300 pieces. Only 40% of the collection is on display at any time due to space constraints and a desire to keep the display fresh.
“We just try to give audiences an opportunity to see a variety of the pieces in the collection,” Olivios said. “There’s certain artists who worked with the studio and sometimes we want to have an exhibit of a (specific Cowan) artist and put all of their pieces up at one time.”
Greg Hatch, the library’s museum curator, will conduct Saturday’s tour. Visitors will get to see one of the “Jazz Bowl” series by Shreckengost, as well as “Europa,” by Paul Manship as well as Vick Shaw’s work depicting the origin of music.
“They’re a part of our local history,” said Olivios. “It’s our heritage, that’s how we define ourselves and it helps us figure out where we’re going.”
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