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Museum Feature

Museum Feature – Franciscan Desert Rose

When the ground-breaking Desert Rose pattern by Franciscan China premiered in 1941, it became an overnight success. The china pieces from our museum that are being featured this month include a Desert Rose candlestick, a small figural ashtray, an “open leaf” bell, a 28-ounce pitcher, and a 14-inch round chop platter. The glassware items include a cordial produced by Imperial Glass Co., and a sherbet made by Anchor Hocking.

The inspiration for Desert Rose has been attributed to Annette Honeywell, a California freelance artist. Based on Honeywell’s designs, Franciscan artist Mary Winans modeled the beautifully shaped Desert Rose pattern that would go on to be touted as “the most popular pattern ever made in America.” The pattern features a hand-painted underglaze floral design with a palette of natural pinks, yellows, and greens. The bold earthenware bodies of each piece are accented with serpentine vines that perfectly complement the green leaves and elegant rose blossoms that cascade across each piece. The flower that the Desert Rose blossom is modeled after, the Rosa Rugosa, is an ornamental plant native to Asia. Rosa Rugosa is a hardy plant that thrives in sandy, coastal areas, although in the U.S. it is found most commonly in the Midwest and northeastern regions. The pattern was named Desert Rose in keeping with Franciscan’s desire to be identified with California and the American West.

Desert Rose stood as a warm, distinctly American contrast to the petite floral designs and gilded accents of traditional European bone china. During the decades after its release, Franciscan created 105 different piece types bearing the hand-painted “Desert Rose” design. Desert Rose pieces produced include salt and pepper shakers, snack trays, tea tiles, oatmeal bowls, tureens, steak plates, cookie jars, mixing bowls, canisters, a variety of pitchers, and many more. The initial strong sales of the pattern naturally led to the idea for the production of matching glassware. Glassware from Libbey Glass Company, Imperial Glass and Anchor Hocking Glass were hand painted to coordinate with the Franciscan pattern.

Gladding, McBean & Co., began production of Franciscan dinnerware in 1934 at their plant in Glendale, California. According to Bob Page and Dale Frederiksen in their book, “Franciscan: An American Dinnerware Tradition,” Gladding, McBean & Co. formed in 1875 to produce sewer tile for the then expanding American West. Over the years they acquired several regional potteries and expanded their product lines several times to include roof tile, decorative art tiles, garden pottery, and art pottery.

Originally, the dinnerware line was sold as Franciscan Pottery and included solidly colored, bright earthenware in the casual style of Mexican folk pottery. This informal tableware was a warm friendly note in the midst of the Great Depression, and the company selection of the Franciscan name, an allusion to Franciscan monks, further played into the Southwest imagery. With names like El Patio, Coronado, and Montecito, 1930's Franciscan patterns embodied the California casual style and sold well. The name was altered to Franciscan Ware in the late 1930s to allow for a more upscale and broader image. Shortly thereafter, the company introduced raised relief, hand-painted patterns like Apple and Desert Rose that proved hugely successful. Other hand-painted patterns such as Ivy, October, and Fresh Fruit became quite popular during this time as well. Ivy was even featured on the sets of "I Love Lucy" and the "Donna Reed Show." At the pinnacle of its fame, Franciscan pieces were purchased by some of America’s most famous families. Noteworthy are the 1961 order by Jacqueline Kennedy for Desert Rose to be used on Air Force One, and the 1969 selection of Franciscan china by President Richard Nixon for service aboard the Presidential yacht. Other orders for special services for royalty from around the world were also filled.

The specific Franciscan Desert Rose pieces in our museum are not for sale, but we carry a very large selection of Desert Rose pieces available for purchase in our inventory; be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you’ll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our retail store and museum are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm ET, 7 days (except holidays); free tours are available from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm ET, 7 days. The retail store and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!

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