Ken Forster Identifies “The Other American Art Pottery”

“All ‘Arts and Crafts pottery’ is ‘art pottery,’ but not all ‘art pottery’ is ‘Arts and Crafts pottery.’ ”

Thus begins author Ken Forster in his latest book, “Alternative American Ceramics, 1870-1955: The Other American Art Pottery.” As a noted scholar, collector, gallery owner, speaker and curator, Ken Forster acquired the necessary experience and insight to tackle the daunting task of compiling information on the hundreds of art potters who produced pottery “without a primary profit-making motivation.”

Forster’s book defines the mantra ‘finding order within chaos,’ as he carefully categorizes these little-known potteries into seven classifications: ceramics as therapy (i.e. Marblehead), as social programs (the Hull House), as personal experimentation (china painting), in education (Newcomb College), as Arts & Crafts (Rose Valley), from philanthropy (Saturday Evening Girls) and in government programs (the W.P.A.).

Systematically organized and meticulously researched, Forster’s book begins by gently leading the reader by the hand through a minefield of confusing terminology without belaboring the obvious. Thus prepared, the reader can then wander through the bulk of the book, picking up valuable information on every page on firms, which until now had largely been forgotten or over-looked.

Their dismissal had less to do with the quality of their work than it did with their lack of a public relations department. While work created by students and convalescing patients will often be uneven in either design or execution, gems do emerge and when they do we collectors long for information about them. Ken Forster quenches our thirst.

Schiffer Publishing has stepped up and produced a book worthy of the six years of research Ken Forster invested in this project. The 320-page hardback book is printed on heavy, gloss paper that keeps the text crisp and the photographs sharp. This is a book destined to receive heavy wear and the publisher has taken the steps necessary to insure that it will withstand the use.

While many collectors will buy this book because of the names they recognize, they will come away from it with a great deal more information about potters and potteries they had previously been unaware of – and now will be searching for.

– Bruce Johnson

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