Filed Under Art and Design

Cowan Pottery Museum

R. Guy Cowan opened Cowan Pottery on Nicholson Avenue in Lakewood in 1912. The studio produced mainly architectural tiles, but also made a line of vases and bowls called "Lakewood Ware." Work from this period can be found in the East Cleveland Public Library and in some private homes. During World War I, Cowan closed his studio to serve in the army.

In 1920, after Cowan's return from the war, the pottery studio moved to 19633 Lake Road in Rocky River. The pieces produced at the Rocky River studio shifted the focus of the pottery towards commercial production. Cowan had a staff of skilled artisans and in the mid-1920s some other established artists came to work at the pottery. Some were not trained in ceramics and had to be convinced by Cowan to try their hand. Others were students of Cowan at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Artists such as Elizabeth Anderson, Thelma Frazier Winter, and Viktor Schreckengost worked at Cowan Pottery between 1920 and 1931.

During the twenties, Cowan Pottery was popular and successful, with Guy Cowan using his awards and national recognition to advertise the pottery. His work was sold in most major cities in the US as well as a few retailers in Canada. However, in 1931 Cowan Pottery began to feel the effects of the Great Depression and Cowan could no longer pay his employees or bills. The pottery closed in December, 1931.

Most of the buildings that housed Cowan pottery in Rocky River still stand today, and a museum devoted to the pottery can be found in the Rocky River Public Library. Viktor Schreckengost's line of Jazz Bowls, originally created for Eleanor Roosevelt, can be seen in many museums, including the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Video

Cowan's Distinct Style About the emergence of Modernism and the Cowan's distinctive Art Deco style. Source: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities
Cowan Pottery: Production in Rocky River Details about production at the Cowan Pottery studio in Rocky River. Source: CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities

Images

Cowan Staff, 1930 Workers outside of the Cowan Pottery showroom at 19633 Lake Rd., Rocky River. It was newly constructed when this photo was taken in the spring of 1930. Image courtesy of the Cowan Pottery Museum
Brunt Family, Cowan Pottery Guy Cowan employed eight members of the Brunt family in the pottery. The Brunts worked with the clay, filled molds, and did various other jobs in the pottery. From left to right: Clarence Brunt (son), Chester Brunt (son), John Brunt (father), Reva Brunt (daughter), George Brunt (son), Evelyn Clevett Brunt (George's wife), William Brunt (son), Wuanita Gerber Brunt (William's wife). Image courtesy of Lakewood Historical Society
Workers at Cowan Pottery One of the jar forms created at the Cowan Pottery was the flower jar, see here. They were designed by Guy Cowan and introduced in 1930. Left to right: Jack O'Malley, John Brunt, and Curly Chilton Image Courtesy of Lakewood Historical Society
Casting Studio Artists created plaster casts that would be made into molds for mass production. Thelma Frazier Winter (right) was one of the elite potters who worked at the pottery. She worked there from 1929 until 1931, creating four different series of pieces. Image courtesy of Lakewood Historical Society
Cowan Pottery Marks As the pottery grew, the marks on the base of the pieces changed. Originally the marks were made by hand, through painting or incision, but as the pottery began to produce more, Cowan switched to an impressed die cut marking. Image Courtesy of Lakewood Historical Society
Richard Hummel Vase Oriental red glaze began as a normal glaze used by Cowan Pottery. One batch made by the pottery using the glaze came out mottled, with black patches all over the pieces. Instead of throwing out the bad batch, Cowan decided to sell it, and the mottled oriental red pieces became one of Cowan's most popular colors. Photo courtesy of Cowan Pottery Museum
Victor Schreckengost Jazz Bowl The Jazz Bowl series produced by Victor Schreckengost was originally designed for Eleanor Roosevelt who wanted an elegant punch bowl with a New York theme. Schreckengost was influenced by the jazz music scene in New York and designed the now famous Jazz Bowl. The bowl was reproduced in a limited run with fewer than 50 pieces being made. Photo Courtesy of Cowan Pottery Museum; Photo taken by Wetzler Studio
Cowan Ad R. Guy Cowan's goal was to create pottery that could be owned by more than just the upper class. Cowan sold household items and vases along with the limited edition art pieces. Photo Courtesy of Cowan Pottery Museum

Location

1600 Hampton Rd, Rocky River, OH 44116

Metadata

Robin Meiksins, “Cowan Pottery Museum,” Cleveland Historical, accessed November 26, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/229.