The remarkable story of Paul Revere Pottery
by Robert Reed
An example of Paul Revere Pottery that aptly uses its namesake as the subject matter.
Paul Revere Pottery, with its soft tones and subtle charm, was created early in the 20th century when a group of noble women invented a craft for underprivileged young girls. The girls, mostly the daughters of immigrants, would ultimately not only learn a trade back in 1900s Boston but would be exposed to literature, music, and higher culture as well.
Today the art pottery crafted by these young people remains distinguished and highly collectible. The story of their achievement remains remarkable.
"These sympathetic people were endeavoring to establish better social and industrial conditions among the underprivileged girls who were no longer compelled to go to school," notes Lucile Henzke in the classic book, Art Pottery of America, "but rather were forced to take up some type of work in order to survive."
In 1906 a club was formed for the young girls through a series of assemblies in the public library. Initially the goal was a cultural one but soon, with librarian's input, the objectives expanded to actually crafting pottery for the marketplace. Directly involved in the effort were two Boston women, Edith Brown and Edith Guerrier. Together they incorporated the supervision and financial support of Helen Storrow, a steadfast volunteer at the Boston Public Library. Storrow had previous experience in various training programs for young girls.
Paul Revere pottery with distinctive royal blue band. Plates dated 1925 .(photos courtesy of Skinner, Inc.)
Learning while working
On many occasions someone in the newly formed group would actually read passages from books to the group as the girls themselves decorated various dishes and vases or particular lines of children's dishes.
By 1912 the ladies were able to acquire a 14-room brick house on Hull Street near the fabled Old North Church, the place where legend had it that signal lanterns were hung for Paul Revere. Installed in the basement of the fashionable home was a functional kiln for making pottery and necessary equipment for further finishing the ware.
According to some reports as many as 30 young girls were now enrolled or employed in the program and became part of a group known as The Saturday Evening Girls. Eventually, at various times, the number of girls would grow to nearly 200. Their production of Paul Revere art pottery expanded to still another structure by 1915. This time the new location was on Nottingham Hill in nearby Brighton, MA. However, even with four "purpose built" kilns fully operational, the enterprise remained productive but not really prosperous.
Landscape and trees decorate Paul Revere pottery set with blue ground. Ca. 1926, Boston.
Pottery lines continued to sell, especially colorful dinner services, tea sets, and breakfast sets. Especially appealing also were children's dishes, which often included various bowls, a pitcher, plate, and perhaps a cup. Frequently the wares featured chickens, rabbits, and ducks.
In general the Paul Revere pottery produced by the Saturday Evening Girls tended to favor a bucolic style that embraced an idyllic rural life with pastoral scenes and small villages. There was also extensive use of flowers, trees and even small houses or similar quaint buildings.
For the most part pottery colors were soft, warm and rich. Blue, green and yellow colors were prominent in some of the early ware by the group, which was combined with medium brown and white tones. Later there were yellow geometric borders and royal blue bands, and even black on ivory ground. There were also teacups in solid blue, bowls in buttercup yellow, and wares decorated in basic beige. Often the appealing flat colors were applied in a basic matte glaze finish. Young hands decorated almost every piece in the pottery process. Sometimes the pieces were stamped Paul Revere Pottery. Some pottery was also marked S.E.C. or even with the initials P.R.P. for the full name, Paul Revere Pottery. And still other pieces might be marked with a horse and rider to reflect the image of famed rider Paul Revere.
Pleasant country scene on jar by Saturday Evening Girls, 1912. Artist identified as Albina Mangini
As the pottery production evolved it sometimes included dates and the initials of the individual artist. This included the works of Albina Mangini and Fannie Levine, along with others. Still at other times the pottery was hardly marked at all, and even paper labels were used. Writings from author Henzke indicate that while there were systems put into place to have properly marked Paul Revere ware, they were often disregarded. Seemingly ware was sometimes sold without markings, or with simple "flimsy" paper labels. Other histories of the ware have made of paper labels, however major auction houses such as Skinner's Inc. have offered Paul Revere Pottery that was clearly marked by one designation or another.
Growing in popularity
In the midst of the prosperity of the 1920s production of Paul Revere pottery did well and maintained a steady popularity. Creamers decorated with landscapes, tiles brightly marked with tulips, and sailing ships upon bowls were assuring and attractive. Yet despite all that the operation never truly turned a profit. It remained mainly financed by the original ladies who began it all. The pottery continued to sell in the 1920s and to a certain extent into the Depression years of the 1930s according to Henzke, "but the financial condition remained unaltered and could not be placed on a paying basis."
Selection of Paul Revere pottery made by the Saturday Evening Gilrs during the 1920s includes bowls and plates.
Still the ladies maintained a pleasant place for training and work, much more home-like than shop-like.
"What makes the story of the Paul Revere Pottery especially interesting were the superior working conditions that prevailed there in a day when such daughters of immigrants often labored in sweatshops for pitifully low wages," noted 20th century historian Dr. William P. Marchione in his study of famed ware.
"The work rooms at the Paul Revere Pottery, in contrast to the dreary and unhealthy factories of the day, were well-lit, well-ventilated, and always decorated with flowers," Dr. Marchione concluded. "And while Paul Revere workers went about the business of creating beautiful hand-crafted items, the works of Dickens, Shakespeare, and other great authors were read along to them for their intellectual edification."
Edith Brown, a key founder and leader, died in 1932. The faltering pottery operation finally closed in the early 1940s.
According to the Allston-Brighton Historical Society, the historic Brighton (Nottingham Hill) building still stands having been converted into condominiums. They note it "deserves to be designated a City of Boston Historical landmark."
Recommended reading: Saturday Evening Girls-Paul Revere Pottery by Meg Chalmers and Judy Young, Schiffer Publishing.
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