Founded by society woman Maria Longworth Nichols Storer (1849-1932), Rookwood Pottery employed a number of women, many of them graduates of the Cincinnati Art Academy. Cincinnati was a center for Art Pottery in the nineteenth century, but many women took up their brushes and fired their kilns after spotting French ceramics at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and reading about them in the period’s popular magazines like The Studio, The Century, and The Craftsman. The Rankin women didn’t start china painting, but they did collect #artpottery. Kittie and Edward Rankin traveled to the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, and the family kept individual issues of several of the popular magazines that chronicled art pottery’s ascent and advertised the wares. The family gave ceramics—including Rookwood—as gifts, including a wedding gift in 1929—and wrote to friends about their new acquisitions. Today, Historic Cherry Hill’s collections include 100+ pieces of art pottery, all soon to be unpacked and placed as the Rankins placed them.
.The detailed flowers painted on this Rookwood pitcher likely came from the Pottery’s extensive gardens on site, which artisans were encouraged to paint from—the commercial equivalent of plein air painting popularized by Impressionist painters. The Pottery also had an extensive collection of botanical illustrations for reference in the library. Women appear here not only as founders, makers, and consumers, but also as inventors. Putting aside the light spot from the flash on this older collections photograph, the pitcher’s bulbous structure accentuates the layers and shades of white glaze to make them lifelike, bouncing off the background as if appreciating the blooms in the garden. That background was only possible because of the intervention of Laura Fry (1857-1943), one of Rookwood’s early employees and a founding member of the Cincinnati Pottery Club, who introduced a mouth-blown atomizer to apply the backgrounds of colored slips, allowing for the harmonious gradations of color that make the flowers appear as if in nature, blooming against variegated shades of soil.