Historical Museum opens pottery exhibit Saturday

For immediate release September 9, 2008


Contact: Jeff Morgan, Jeff.Morgan@iowa.gov, (515) 281-3858

(DES MOINES) – A major exhibition of more than 300 pieces of Iowa stoneware spanning the period 1830-1930 opens Saturday at the State Historical Museum.

 “Made from Mud: Iowa’s Potters and Potteries, 1830-1930” will be on display through April 12, 2009. The State Historical Museum is at 600 E. Locust Street in Des Moines’ Historic East Village. Hours are 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday and Noon-4:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free and open to the public.

 “Unlike the wares of the eastern United States that are well-researched, the ceramics of Iowa have been largely ignored by historians of the decorative arts,” State Historical Museum Chief Curator Michael Smith said. “This exhibition is designed to bring greater attention to the history of Iowa potters and potteries.”

 During the 19th century, the discovery of superior clay deposits in conjunction with the state’s rich coal seams gave birth to a thriving ceramics industry, especially in Boone, Mahaska, Muscatine, Polk, Van Buren, Wapello, Warren and Webster counties.

 The presence of potters in Iowa can be documented as early as 1836. Records indicate more than 300 individuals identified by name were actively engaged in the production of Iowa ceramics.

 “Without a doubt, more have yet to be identified,” Smith said. “The marks of about 80 potters have been located on pieces for inclusion in the exhibition, with the earliest of these dating from around 1836.”

 Compared to the highly decorated stoneware of the eastern United States, Iowa’s stoneware is plain and utilitarian, occasionally bearing the mark of the maker impressed or transfer-printed on the body.

 By the 1850s, more durable high-fired salt-glazed stoneware was being produced, constituting the bulk of the exhibit. Lead-glazed earthenware, characterized by their clay bodies and firing techniques, was produced in Iowa in small quantities.

 Although machine techniques were increasingly adopted beginning around 1870, the exhibition concentrates on wheel thrown jugs, jars, pans and churns produced in a variety of sizes for storing, preserving and preparing food.


The State Historical Society of Iowa is a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and is a trustee of Iowa's historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa's past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa's historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state. Visit www.iowahistory.org or call 515-281-5111 for more information.


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