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Open house to mark 100-year anniversary of Cowan Pottery

Cowan Pottery Studio in the 1920s (Photo courtesy of Rocky River Historical Society)

Rocky River

By Sue Botos

For one afternoon, residents will have the chance to time-travel back to the 1920s and get a glimpse of what it was like to be a buyer for a fashionable business selling Cowan pottery.

In celebration of the centennial of the iconic pottery, which was produced in Rocky River from 1920 until 1931, the Rocky River Public Library, the Cowan Pottery Museum Associates and the Rocky River Historical Society will co-host a Cowan Pottery Centennial Open House on Aug. 4 from 1 to 5 p.m. at the site of the original showroom at 19621 Lake Road.

Although the festivities will last for only a day, preparations have been in the works for over a year, according to the historical society’s Tom Barrett. His family has owned the old farmhouse, which once housed the Cowan showroom, since 1935.

Barrett and other workers spent a good portion of last year painting, landscaping and making other improvements to the home, parts of which date to the mid-1800s. Barrett’s grandparents purchased the land, which included the house, former pottery factory and another building, which housed Barrett’s grandfather’s business, the Walter Barrett Creamery, in the 1930s and 1940s.

“We will try to reproduce, as closely as possible, the displays in the same rooms using the same pieces,” said Barrett said. He added that historical photos of the rooms, set up as they would have been for buyers from Marshall Field and other retailers of the time, will be displayed along with the Cowan pieces, many of which will be on loan from private collectors for the occasion, as well as from the Cowan Pottery Museum at the library.

According to the historical society, R. Guy Cowan, a native of East Liverpool, Ohio, began production of the iconic ceramics in Lakewood in 1912, moving to Rocky River in 1920 after a gas well dried out. Building a larger, nine-kiln factory, Cowan became a national name, with a dealer network of about 1,200 outlets distributing pottery to such retailers as Marshall Field of Chicago, Wanamaker’s of Philadelphia, Kaufmann’s of Pittsburgh and Halle’s of Cleveland.

In the mid-1920s, the studio developed a full commercial line of ceramics, which included the flower figurines which became popular with the public. By 1928, Cowan Pottery had grown to a staff of 35 and was producing 175,000 single pieces a year, ranging from stock designs to limited editions of sculptured pieces.

Many well-known artists became affiliated with the studio during this time, including Viktor Schreckengost, whose works can be seen throughout the Cleveland area. Schreckengost placed the studio in the national spotlight in 1931, when he created the Jazz Bowl, which was commissioned by Eleanor Roosevelt for her husband Franklin when he was governor of New York. He continued a line of Jazz Bowls, one of which is on display at the Cowan Museum at the Rocky River Public Library.

Falling victim to the Great Depression, the Cowan Pottery studio closed its doors in 1931. R. Guy Cowan spent the rest of his life as the chief designer for Syracuse China and a judge and trustee for the National Ceramic Exhibitions. He died of a heart attack while vacationing in Tucson, Ariz,. in 1957, and was buried in Rocky River.

While most of the works on display for the centennial will not be for sale, Barrett said several consigners will be selling some lower-priced items. “If you want a piece for your home, now is the time to get it,” he stated. There will also be a raffle for a special piece, the Pavlova Candelabra.

Also on hand will be authors signing and selling their books about Cowan pottery, live 1920s- and 1930s-styled music from the Brassy Five on the porch of the house, a display tent and the world’s largest Jazz Bowl.

“This is a huge 5- by-4-foot model made by the Cleveland Art Institute for Parade the Circle,” Barrett said of the Jazz Bowl, next to which partygoers can pose for pictures.

Parking is limited on the grounds, but will be available at nearby businesses. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call the Rocky River Public Library at 440-333-7610 or visit www.rrpl.org.

 

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