Rookwood Pottery – A Piece of Cincinnati History

Rookwood pottery gift shop

It was raining this afternoon, and the temperature dropped. It seemed like the perfect time to spend a few hours with my daughter-in-law on a Rookwood Pottery Tour.

The tour began at Findlay Market, Ohio’s oldest continuously operated public market . Both the market and the factory are located in Over-the-Rhine, in a few slightly-sketchy blocks that are still undergoing transformation. Most of Over-the-Rhine is enjoying a revitalization and these two Cincinnati artisan staples embody the rich history to be found there.

As a Cincinnatian, the elite quality of Rookwood Pottery had been ingrained in us. People discover unrecognized Rookwood Pottery tiles or ceramics, fireplaces, or floors stamped with the RP insignia on the bottom. I had a Rookwood fireplace in an apartment I lived in during college in Clifton. It was green, and so pretty, though the fireplace was not functional. That was par for the course in these older, Victorian neighborhoods of Cincinnati.

ceramic tiles

ornate Rookwood fireplace

My Rookwood fireplace was not this ornate

But I never really knew the history and distinction of Rookwood Pottery until I took the tour.

Rookwood factory tour in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati

Rookwood pottery was founded by Maria Longworth Nichols Storer in 1880. This marked Rookwood as the first company owned by a woman. Each piece is hand-painted and bears the signature marking on the bottom/backside of each piece.

Rookwood marking

The distinctive stamp of a Rookwood pottery piece

Rookwood also went so far as to develop its own “Standard Glaze,” a yellow-tinted, high-gloss clear glaze often used over leaf or flower motifs. That lead to the creation of two more distinct glazes by 1894 and then the company soon expanded into architectural pottery. If you explore Cincinnati, you’re likely to see some at the in Mt. Adams, in Carew Tower downtown, and at Union Terminal. You can also find Rookwood pottery in the Rathskeller Room at the Seelbach Hilton in Louisville, Kentucky, in the Vanderbilt Hotel, Grand Central Station, and Lord & Taylor in New York City,  and on display at the Carnegie West Branch of Cleveland Public Library.

Union Terminal ceramic architectural tile

A fun ceramic replica of Cincinnati’s famed Union Terminal building made of Rookwood pottery. The building houses original Rookwood tiles as well.

The factory keeps all of its molds on file, which serves restoration experts well. In 2012, the historic Monroe Building of Chicago completed a restoration and replacement of thousands of original Rookwood Pottery tiles. This was only possible because the original molds have been been preserved.

My daughter-in-law had never heard of Rookwood Pottery, though she loves decoration and art and has excellent taste and craftsmanship. I knew she’d appreciate getting a behind-the-scenes introduction to this iconic craftsmanship. She appreciates quality.

 

Rookwood Pottery tiles seems like a throwback to the glitz and glamour of more prosperous times, but it has made a revitalization these days as the Rookwood Pottery Company continues to craft iconic pieces. Most recently, they have created a Fiona Christmas ornament to commemorate Cincinnati’s favorite little premature hippo. That’s probably as much as this humble travel blogger can afford. But as Mastercard quipped, for me, owning a piece of Cincinnati’s artistic history — priceless.

Are you familiar with Rookwood Pottery?

 

14 responses to “Rookwood Pottery – A Piece of Cincinnati History

  1. Yes, I love Rookwood Pottery! I’ve been on the tour, which was lovely, and I really want to take my mom on it.

    Also, I think Rookwood pieces make super elegant “representative of CincinnatI” gifts. A few years back, we gave everyone in our (very small) wedding party a rosebud vase, which they no longer make in the size we prefer, but there’s a larger size that’s still a staple of theirs.

  2. Peggy and I love tiles, Juliann, and a tile shop in Mexico or Portugal, (or, I am sure Cincinnati) can capture our attention for hours. The birds and the animals above the fireplace particularly pulled me in! –Curt

  3. I am not. I still have some pottery from my ex-brother-in-laws days as the chief engineers at Steubenville Pottery. It’s a buckeye leaf fruit bowl and tea set. Being in the river valley makes for some excellent clay.

    • The Portuguese tiles thrilled me, too. Having the entire exterior of buildings decorated with tile was breathtaking. You won’t find that with Rookwood tiles, but they are impressive INSIDE so many buildings.

  4. I’ve literally never heard of Rockwood Pottery until now. You always find the best tours! That fireplace is absolutely amazing and now I want one. And, if I could have an entire kitchen (or something with tiles) in that raven pattern, that would be great!

    • Rookwood pottery is exquisite. I had a Rookwood fireplace in the first floor of a house I rented during college but had not idea what a treasure I was living with. I just thought it was pretty.

  5. I’m actually a potter myself so this was interesting to read! I feel like since I’ve gotten better at throwing my own pottery, I notice a lot more in pottery I see when I’m shopping or traveling. The Rookwood pottery isn’t really my style – I prefer matte and minimalist pieces – but it’s definitely interesting to learn about its connection to your home city, I’m sure. Also super cute they are making a Fiona ornament. I am a huge fan of Fiona and watch all her Facebook videos LOL

  6. I’m not really familiar with Rockwood pottery. But, they really look amazing and artistic…
    It’s interesting that you had this kind of tour…It can actually be surprising at times, learning of an untold history of your hometown… Sometimes, It can be nostalgic.

    • I know exactly what you mean, Cat. I’ve heard about Rookwood my whole life, but never paid attention to what the fuss was about. And missed the fact that I was living with a piece of this history!!

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