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High tech Cowan Pottery Museum tour brings history to life

Rocky River Public Library marketing and development Director Kitty Summers checks out the self-guided Cowan Pottery tour on an iPad. (West Life photo by Sue Botos)

By Sue Botos

Rocky River

Quick Response, or QR, codes seem to be popping up everywhere, from print ads to store shelves. These black and white patterned squares, which resemble an ink blot test, can unlock a lot of information with the help of a smartphone or an iPad. Now patrons of the Rocky River Public Library have the opportunity to use this technology to become more familiar with Cowan pottery.

The library has recently put in place a four-part self-guided tour of the Cowan Pottery Museum, located within the building, using QR codes to access portions of a documentary detailing the library’s collection.

“This is the only art pottery museum located within a library, in the world,” noted museum curator Carol Jacobs during a recent demonstration of the tour. The iconic pottery was produced by R. Guy Cowan between 1912 and 1931, first in Lakewood, and then in a studio on Lake Road in Rocky River. Among those artists and designers who worked at the studio was famed sculptor Viktor Schreckengost. Cowan’s works served as background and focus pieces in several Hollywood movies, and he also created the Italianate art tile floor for the Cleveland Museum of Art’s indoor garden court.

The museum had its beginnings in the late 1960s, when then-director George Scherma began networking with collectors, and found one with 800 pieces he wanted to sell. A private bequest in the mid-1970s made the purchase possible, and the museum opened in February 1978.

Jacobs credited library marketing and development Director Kitty Summers with the idea for the tour, which utilizes a 45-minute video produced by Cox Cable and features Jacobs speaking on the background and history of the collection. “There was no way we could host a video that size on our website (www.rrpl.org), so we asked Cox to help. They were fabulous. They gave us the time and talent to do this,” said Summers.

The tour begins with an introduction at the R. Guy Cowan display case outside of the alcove of signature pieces, and ends with a case featuring the famous “Jazz Bowl,” created as part of a series by Schreckengost. “This is an appropriate area for us to be talking about this,” commented Jacobs, noting the museum location in the oldest section of the library. “R. Guy Cowan was an avid researcher and was a patron of the library. He could have been standing right here,” she said.

Patrons taking the tour first need to download a free QR code-scanning app, then hold their mobile device up to the code. The video can then be used to supplement viewing the actual pieces. Jacobs said they should first check in at the library reference desk, where they will receive ear buds for private listening. She said the tour can be downloaded to any smartphone or tablet device. The documentary can also be viewed on YouTube, or on a DVD available for checkout.

Summers added that the current library publication “Inside View” features a QR code that opens written information about the artwork and antiques throughout the library, many of which were donated to the library by Sophia Schlather, wife of brewer and noted Rocky River citizen Leonard Schlather. (The former Schlather Brewery is now the site of the Great Lakes Brewing Co.).

Although patrons must provide their own mobile devices for the tour, Summers said iPads for public use are on the “wish list.” More in-depth and personally tailored tours are available for one to 20 people through Jacobs (c.jacobs@rrpl.org).

Jacobs added that this year begins the centennial celebration of Cowan pottery, officially kicking off with the annual Cowan Pottery Symposium on May 5 at the library. The symposium will also mark the official rollout of a Cowan Pottery Tour on the Cleveland Historical app at http:// clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/229.

Asked what R. Guy Cowan would have thought about all this technology, Jacobs didn’t hesitate. “He would have loved it. He was always looking for new and innovative ideas.”

 

 

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