Arkansas Another Area With Good Clay
Soil For Pottery
|The tall jug is Camark’s “Pure Corn” jug, complete with animals, all in black on a brown background. The bowl and chamberstick, by Dryden, are also in shades of brown.
Certain regions of the United States have the type of clay soil that is well suited for pottery making. When the region also has a good supply of reasonably-priced fuel, several potteries are apt to congregate in a fairly small area. Probably the most well known of these regions is the Ohio River Valley. Another productive area for potters has been central Arkansas.
Three of the Arkansas potteries of the early years of the 20th century were Niloak Pottery of Benton, Dryden Pottery of Hot Springs, and Camark Pottery of Camden.
The earliest of the three, and the most well known to collectors today, is the Niloak Pottery. The name is kaolin, spelled backward, which is the name of a fine clay that has been used for making porcelain for many centuries.
The first product of the Niloak factory was a line called Mission ware. Each piece was made from two or more different colored native Arkansas clays, which were swirled together before a piece was thrown. The colors ranged from deep brown to pale cream, light green, light blue and pink. Some of the colors were derived by adding mineral oxides to the lighter colored clay. Heating also altered shades, so a wide spectrum of colors resulted, and no two pieces were exactly the same. Blue/brown swirl pieces were the most common combination.
Different clays shrink at different rates in the drying process. This was the difficulty which Niloak needed to overcome to keep their pieces intact as they were fired. The successful and patented procedure was a technique using a long firing process lasting more than 40 hours, in which the temperature was steadily increased to 2300 degrees Fahrenheit.
The final Mission ware piece usually had a soft, dull unglazed exterior, finished with a sandpapering process to give it a satin-smooth feel. The inside was usually glazed to make the piece water tight.
Sales of Niloak Missionware were excellent until the start of the Depression. At the company’s peak, 75,000 pieces a year were produced and sold across the United States, Canada, Europe and the Far East. They were always quite expensive, ranging in price from $10 to $50.
During the Depression, sales dropped off drastically. A line of cast, molded ware was added, which was called the Hywood line. These production-line pieces had either a high gloss, semi-matte or matte finish and were made in solid and drip colors. Especially popular were the animals, some of which were made with pockets to be used as planters.
The Mission line was discontinued in 1942. The Hywood ware was made for a few more years. In 1947, Niloak ceased to operate under that name and was converted to the Winburn Tile Company.
An excellent reference book on Niloak is The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Niloak, by David Gifford.
The Camark pottery of Camden, Arkansas, was organized in early 1926 by J. Carnes. One of his first moves was to “import” John B. and Jeanne Lessell, and Jeanne’s daughter, Billie, from Ohio, where they had been decorators for several art potteries, including Weller and Owens. They were best known for their work with metallic glazes.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the earliest Camark pieces resemble Weller and Owens. In fact, Lessell designed exact duplicates of Weller’s LaSa and Marengo lines, naming them LeCamark. Some of them were signed by Lessell. These pieces are rare today, and fetching good prices when collectors find them.
John Lessell lived only a few months after the family moved to Camden; Jeanne and Billie continued producing art pottery for Camark for another year or two.
Carnes tried to duplicate every sort of ceramic ware, with the obvious result that a wide variety of products carried the LeCamark mark. There was a black mirror-like glaze, decorated with gold; a majolica line, resembling Italian work; a line similar to Roseville’s Carnelian; heavily glazed pieces in dark greens, blues and maroons, such as Teco and Van Briggle made; and pastel soft mattes of one glaze running over another.
In the 1930s, the company shifted to cast pieces with both matte and high gloss finishes. It continued with this ware until it closed around 1960. Camark pottery continued to be sold for the next 20 years from existing inventory, through a retail store.
A wide variety of marks was used by Camark, and sometimes pieces weren’t marked at all. The earliest was a map of Arkansas with Camark Pottery printed in the center.
The Collector’s Guide to Camark Pottery, Books I and II, have also been written by David Gifford.
A third Arkansas pottery actually began as a Kansas operation, in 1946. James Dryden operated there for 10 years before moving his operation to Hot Springs, Arkansas.
The early pieces made in Arkansas had primarily brown glazes, often with streaks or splotches of other colors such as cream or green. Almost all of the output was wheel thrown. A few pieces, mainly figurals, are molded.
Early pieces were mainly in earth tones, particularly shades of brown. Colors have changed through the years to meet current decorating trends.
Pieces from Dryden’s early Kansas pottery can be distinguished from that made in Arkansas by the type of clay used. The Kansas clay was a dark tan, whereas the Arkansas clay is white. Marks have changed over the years, but almost all pieces have the name Dryden in some form either molded or incised on the bottom.
Dryden Pottery is still operating in Hot Springs and welcomes visitors.
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