Prolific California Potteries Offer
Variety Of Figurals
The output of the numerous California potteries of the middle decades of the 20th century attracts enormous interest from collectors, especially those along the West Coast. The period, in general, extended from the 1930s into the 1960s. By the 1960s, imports from the Far East had seriously eroded the economic viability of the potteries of the United States, and those of California, along with those of the rest of the country. This continued the process of closures begun in the 1950s.
A sub-category of California pottery is figural pottery. A collector of California figurines can choose from a wide array. According to Jack Chipman in The Collector’s Encyclopedia of California Pottery, there were over 800 potteries in this state operating in 1948.
Another plus for many collectors is that the work of most of these California potteries is fairly inexpensive. (Prices peaked in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and have dropped back to lesser values today.) Of course, there will always be exceptions for those pieces extremely rare or desirable.
There are some definite favorites with collectors, including Kay Finch, Hedi Schoop, Brayton Laguna, Metlox, Florence, deLee, Weil, and Florence.
Kay Finch Ceramics began in 1938, when the Finches bought a used kiln and installed it in a shed behind their home in Santa Ana. The company grew, and continued active until the early 1960s.
Kay designed the pieces and they are prized especially for their originality. One flaw in their production is that a very soft clay was used, and it is very difficult to find pieces today that do not have small chips.
Another thing a collector needs to be aware of is that Kay Finch Ceramics sold its undecorated pieces to home ceramicists; these could even buy Kay Finch glazes to decorate their own pieces at home. So if a piece is clearly from a Kay Finch mold, but doesn’t look like it’s been finished properly, it may be a piece finished by a home decorator.
Hedi Schoop arrived in California in the early 1930s, when she and her husband fled Germany as the Nazis rose to power. She was, at that time, a dancer and had also attended some of Europe’s fine art institutions, where she studied fashion design, among other things. All of this background combined to give her California-made figurines a most distinctive look, with graceful lines and lavish dress.
By 1940, the popularity of Hedi Schoop figurines had increased to the point where a full factory was needed to keep up with the demand, and the volume of this Hollywood plant grew to 30,000 pieces annually.
The factory continued in business until 1948, when it was destroyed by fire and not rebuilt. For a short time after that, Schoop free-lanced her designs to ther potteries, and then retired in the early 1960s.
Brayton Laguna actually started in the late 1920s, in Laguna Beach, but it was in 1936, following the marriage of founder Durlin Brayton to Ellen Webster (“Webb”) Grieve that the figural ware that became so popular was introduced. In fact, Webb Brayton’s designs were so good that they attracted the attention of the Disney studios, and Brayton Laguna became the first licensee to produce ceramic Disney figurines. They held this license until 1940.
Although Webb Brayton died in 1948 and Durlin died three years later, the pottery stayed in business until 1968, producing a wide variety of figural items. One of the most well-known is the planter named Sally, which comes in several colors of dress and hair. Some collectors limit their collections to versions of Sally.
Metlox, well-known for its dinnerware lines, also made some distinctive figurines. Of these, the “Poppet” group is one of the most recognizable and collectible. The Poppets probably fall into that category of things you either like a lot or you don’t like at all.
Metlox, (which is an abbreviated form of metal oxide,) used in making the ceramic signs which were the company’s original business) began producing figural pottery in the late 1930s. For a time this company alos produced figurines for Disney, when Evan K. Shaw’s American Pottery Company, the licensee in 1946, bought Metlox and continued to use its own molds at the Metlox plant in Manhattan Beach. The Metlox pottery actually stayed in business until 1989.
Twin Winton was named for its founders, the twins Don and Ross Winton. It began in 1936 in Pasadena. Don was responsible for the modeling, Ross actually made the molds and Helen Burke, an original partner in the enterprise, did the decorating.
Many of the Twin Winton pieces are animal figurines. Also well known is the company’s hillbilly line, which combines dinnerware with figural ceramics.
The company went through some ownership changes until it eventually was closed in 1975.
The Collector’s Encyclopedia of California Pottery by Jack Chipman (Collector Books) and California Potteries by Mike Schneider (Schiffer Books), although both published in the 1990s, are still the most useful general reference books on the various California potteries of the mid-20th century.
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