Our Museum Feature this month is a unique and interesting review of pieces from the Bob White pattern produced by Red Wing Potteries. The pattern design includes whimsical depictions of a mother bobwhite quail and her chicks rendered in a muted color palette of blues and browns on a speckled background. The Bob White items displayed in our museum include a 2-quart covered casserole with metal stand, a beverage server, a figural hors d’oeuvre holder, and an oval platter with burner stand. Produced from 1954 to 1967, Bob White was the most popular pattern ever produced by Red Wing – during its thirteen-year run, more than fifty different Bob White pieces were produced. This delightful pattern was designed by Charles Murphy, one of the most important figures in Red Wing company history.
Murphy grew up in East Liverpool, Ohio, an area known for its pottery production. Producing his first pottery designs while still in high school, Murphy went on to study at the Cleveland Art Institute, where his talent won him a scholarship to study abroad for a year. After graduation, Murphy worked as a designer for several pottery companies, including Homer Laughlin. In 1940, Murphy was hired to be the design director at Red Wing, where one of his first acts was implementing a more efficient, assembly-line process for decorating the company’s hand-painted products. During WWII, Murphy served as a combat engineer for the U.S. military, earning a gold star for his paintings of battle scenes. Returning to the company after the war, Murphy distinguished himself with his playful and stylish designs for cookie jars, figurines, statues, and dinnerware. In 1949, Murphy left Red Wing, but returned in 1953 and stayed until the company closed in 1967. The designs introduced by Murphy during his tenure at Red Wing helped the company achieve great success, and have left an indelible mark on the art pottery and dinnerware world.
Nestled by the Mississippi River in the shadow of a river promontory, the city of Red Wing, Minnesota had become an industrial powerhouse in the upper Midwest by the late nineteenth century. Author Ray Reiss in his book, “Red Wing Art Pottery,” notes that the city was incorporated in 1864, just six years after Minnesota had been admitted as a state into the Union. Red Wing bustled with manufacturing plants, grain elevators, and extensive docks as a port on the Mississippi. After deposits of clay were discovered nearby, the city ultimately became the largest single producer of utilitarian stoneware in the nation, writes Ray Pahnke in an article, “The Largest Pottery,” in the “Red Wing Collectors Society Newsletter.”
A potter, German immigrant John Paul (or, as listed in some accounts, Joseph Pohl), is credited with discovering the clay deposits near Red Wing in 1861. Paul sold his handmade wares to friends and neighbors, and small potteries sprang up in the area. Red Wing Potteries, Inc., founded in 1936, emerged from a series of different companies, the first of which being the Red Wing Stoneware Company, founded in 1877. The handmade tradition of Paul’s wares was carried forward in the products of Red Wing Potteries. With the development of modern mechanical refrigeration, along with the passage of the Volstead Act and the era of Prohibition, commercial demand for stoneware jugs and crocks declined dramatically. Responding to these marketing changes in the late 1920s, Red Wing Potteries introduced its Art Pottery line, crafting decorative flower pots and kitchenware. In 1932, the company began producing Art Pottery for legendary marketing agent George Rumrill. Pieces from the decorative flower pot, kitchenwares, and Rumrill collections represent important contributions to the history of the Arts and Crafts movement in the U.S.
At about the same time that the company changed its name to Red Wing Potteries in 1936, it began to produce dinnerware. Bob White was one of the patterns in the company’s “Casual” line, introduced in 1955 in response to the changing American lifestyle following the end of World War II. Beginning in the mid to late 1950s, Red Wing began to face stiff competition from foreign markets, and the company was forced to close its doors in 1967 following a labor strike. Today, Red Wing pieces are highly sought after by collectors.
The Red Wing Potteries Bob White items in our museum are not for sale, but we do have other Bob White pieces available for purchase in our inventory, along with a variety of other Red Wing Potteries items; 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 500,000-square-foot facilities hold more than 12 million individual pieces in more than 425,000 patterns! Our showroom and museum are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm ET, 7 days (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm ET, 7 days. The showroom and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!