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Featured Museum Piece

California Provincial by Metlox-Poppytrail

California Provincial 9-Piece Condiment Set by Metlox/Poppytrail
9-Piece Condiment Set

This month, we have a selected a large group of pieces from the California Provincial pattern by Metlox Potteries.  Rare pieces from our California Provincial collection include a 9-piece condiment set, a handled platter, extremely rare tureen, rooster pitcher, figural salt and pepper set, and an original Metlox Potteries sign

California Provincial was introduced in 1950 as part of the “Provincial” shape debut.  Inspiration for this rustic collection of tableware was drawn from early American arts, crafts, home décor, and architecture.  Metlox Potteries modeled the “Provincial” shape on rustic potteries, wood carvings, tin molds, baskets, and pewter designs.  The incorporation of rooster and hen pieces to the collection added personality and flair to the popular shape. 

California Provincial made its tableware debut in 1950.  At this time, Americans sought to dismiss the formality of dining.  The days of formal entertaining gave way to the zeitgeist of backyard barbeques and casual meals served around the kitchen table.  Lazy susans became a staple in the American home.  The inclusion of condiment and cruet sets in dinnerware designs made easy work of entertaining friends and family.  Also during the 1950’s, American consumers were falling in love with Early American furniture designs. 

California Provincial Rooster Pitcher, Platter, and Tureen by Metlox/Poppytrail
Rooster Pitcher, Platter, & Tureen

The birth of the “Provincial” Shape really is serendipity.  During the late 1940’s, as a Los Angeles department store buyer was taking a tour of Metlox Potteries, he suggested that Metlox create a dinnerware pattern that would coordinate with the wild popularity of Early American furniture designs.  Two of Metlox’s designers, Bob Allen and Mel Shaw studied early American crafts, furniture, and art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and at the National Galleries in Washington, D.C.  Allen’s paper drawings were transformed into plaster shapes which would be used to make the master molds of California Provincial.  Mel Shaw drew the cocky strutting rooster that would adorn the pattern and be used as the model for the many figural pieces that would accompany the pattern.  Even the colors used in the pattern were inspired by Early American art.  Allen and Shaw discovered that wavy lines, dark greens, reds, and browns were commonly used in Colonial art. 

In 1950, the pattern was introduced with much fanfare and was touted as “California Provincial: Antique Flavor…Modern Design!”  Marketing literature from the debut of California Provincial states, “Fanciful provincial dinnerware in early day pilgrim motif!  Style your table of today with authentic designs that date back to Plymouth Rock!  Against a background of maple, the strutting rooster is done in maroon and provincial tones of leaf green and straw yellow.  The border is decorated in green and coffee brown…created to fit in with practically all types of homes decoration from Early American or Provincial, English Farmhouse, Cape Cod, Swedish, Victorian, French Provincial, Ranch House – all the way to informal, modern patio use.”  The pattern was immensely popular with consumers, who found its versatility appealing.  The “Provincial” shape made its 1949 debut with 28 piece types – a respectable number of dinnerware pieces for the launch of a new design.  By 1980, there were more than 90 pieces in the “Provincial” shape collection.

California Provincial Figural Salt & Pepper Set by Metlox/Poppytrail
Figural Salt & Pepper Set

Metlox Potteries was founded by T.C. Prouty and his son, Willis Prouty.  In 1919, the Prouty Family settled in Hermosa Beach, California.  After a year of experimenting with clays and glazes that were derived from the area, the Prouty patented a tile body that was made primarily with talc.  In 1921, they opened a company called “Proutyline Products.”  At first, they only sold architectural tiles from a two story factory at 719 Pier Ave. in Hermosa Beach.  In 1927, T.C. and Willis Prouty opened Metlox as a division of Proutyline.  The name Metlox was derived from a combination of the words “metal” and “oxide.”  The Metlox Factory was located in Manhattan Beach, California, opened on June 3, 1927, and was the first electrically welded steel building on the West coast. 

Before producing dinnerware, Metlox produced large outdoor ceramic signs.  These signs were most popular with new theatres that needed large outdoor signage.  As the Great Depression began, T.C. Prouty passed away.  His son, Willis, realized the company’s need to diversify.  Demand for large ceramic signs began to dwindle during the depression era.  As a result of this, the company expanded into dinnerware and began in 1932 to produce the “200 Series” line of dinnerware.  This line was also called “Poppytrail.”  The company garnered a great deal of success from its dinnerware product line. 

Orginial Metlox Potteries Sign
Original Metlox Potteries Sign

In 1938, the company began producing miniature figurines which were also very popular with consumers.  During the war years, Metlox stopped producing dinnerware and began producing shell castings, nuts, and bolts for the armed services.  After the war, Metlox attempted to sell toys but began losing money.  In 1946, Metlox was sold to Evan K. Shaw, owner of the lucrative Evan K. Shaw Company and American Pottery.  The American Pottery company was known for its line of Disney Figurines. The American Pottery Factory was destroyed by a fire in 1946.  Shaw heard that Willis Prouty was looking to sell Metlox Potteries, placed a bid on the factory, Metlox and Poppytrail names, and received formal ownership of the factory and company branding on November 8, 1946.  Shaw had the ambitious goal of making Metlox Potteries the most profitable dinnerware manufacturer in America.  European imports slowed during the 1940’s and 1950’s as a result of the war taking place on European soil.  It is said that the most important decision Even Shaw ever made was to hire Bob Allen and Mel Shaw (creators of the California Provincial pattern) as his art directors (we have been unable to determine whether Evan Shaw and Bob Shaw were related). Both Bob Allen and Mel Shaw had a background in drawing cartoons.  In fact, Mel Shaw worked on the Disney classics “Bambi” and “Fantasia.”  Metlox dinnerware was marketed using the trade name “Poppytrail.”  In 1958, Faye Bennison, a friend of Evan Shaw’s, decided to close Vernon Kilns, another popular ceramics maker.  He sold the rights to the Vernonware name to Shaw.  Because of this, Metlox Potteries is often called “Metlox, Poppytrail, Vernonware.” 

Through the 1950’s and 1960’s Metlox’s only real competitor was Franciscan, an immensely popular California maker of dinnerware.  During the 1970’s, Metlox began to fall out of favor with American consumers.  Hand-painted dinnerware patterns with large selections of piece types were no longer desirable.  While having almost no foreign competition up to this point, Metlox began to compete with popular Japanese firms.  Evan Shaw passed away in 1980 and the company was inherited by his daughter, Melinda Avery.  By 1989, the company was no longer able to stay afloat and shut its doors in May of that same year.  As one can see, Metlox Potteries had a wonderfully rich history as a result of the dedication and conviction of the Prouty and Shaw families. 

Although our museum pieces are not for sale, we do have a wonderful selection of patterns by Metlox/Poppytrail/Vernonware.  Come visit us and see these amazing California Provincial pieces as well our massive, rare collection of tableware and collectible items.  Our Showroom and Museum are open from 9:00am to 7:00pm ET, 7 days a week; free tours are available from 10:00am to 6:00pm ET, 7 days a week. The Showroom and Museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40.  Make plans to visit us soon!


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