Marblehead Pottery, named after the small harbor town, Marblehead, Massachusetts, originated in 1904 as a small operation that served as art therapy for the patients in the local sanitarium. However, in 1905, Arthur Baggs purchased the pottery and turned it into a small production pottery studio, that created the recognizable, quintessential Marblehead-style pieces. The studio never employed more than 6 people. Their small output and refined design aesthetic make these pieces special among Arts and Crafts pottery collectors.
What is special about Marblehead Pottery?
We admire Marblehead’s refined – almost modern – aesthetic. Their glazes are tight, but not rigid, and their pieces have a simple softness that comes from the lightly incised lines and tonal, stony glaze palette. From a ceramic artist’s perspective they were making something truly special and truly difficult to replicate.
From inspiration to aptitude – a decade of trial and error
Nothing could have been more challenging to recreate than Marblehead’s style. Our high relief sculpture and flowing glazes are so different from techniques and materials that Marblehead employed. Perhaps that challenge made the endeavor so enticing! Running glazes mean that we always avoid horizontal lines, which tend to become obscured when the glaze flows over them in the kiln. In early Marblehead attempts we thinned out the glaze in order to apply it in a scant-dipped coat. To no avail. The glazes still ran over the black lines. For the next attempts we reformulated the glazes to run less by removing some of the glazes’ flux. But then our surfaces lacked interest and looked stagnant. It wasn’t until we learned how to spray our glazes (about 5 years ago) that we finally had a solution. With a spraying technique we can apply our inherently interesting glazes thin enough so that they don’t run and cause the decoration to bleed.
A new bag of tricks = an expanded body of work
We finally conquered our materials. This process has led to an avenue of exploration that we proudly see as expanding on the great Marblehead’s legacy, but with an Ephraim twist.
Ephraim and Archive Editions – a long-standing friendship
Ephraim has offered Archive Edition textiles in our galleries from the beginning. We met Paul Freeman, owner, and founder of Archive Edition Textiles, over twenty years ago at Arts and Crafts trade shows around the country. Our mutual love for Arts and Crafts era decorative arts led us on parallel paths of collecting originals and then reproducing Arts and Crafts Revival pieces. Kevin and Paul formed a friendship at these shows and always made a point of getting together after the show for dinner, where they compared notes about owning a small arts-based business. Kevin has personally collected Archive Edition Textiles for his home and sees them as an ideal complement for Ephraim’s pottery.
Archive Edition – an aesthetic of excellent and the perfect ‘soft landing’ for your ceramic collection
Paul’s discerning eye for authentic Arts and Crafts textile designs, colors, and quality is unmatched. Paul says, “Throughout my life, I have been continuously inspired by William Morris and hope to embody his spirit in all of our textiles.” Archive Edition Textiles represent a gold standard in Arts and Crafts design. We are so pleased to be able to share these wonderful textiles – which create the perfect soft landing for our pottery – in our galleries and now online!
Join us on St. Patrick’s Day for the release of our newest Studio Collection. The 2018 Studio Collection will include 12 new vase designs and 8 new tile designs. We have worked hard to bring these designs to you early in the new year and are excited to share the results of our creative musings.
In addition to a full showing of the new Studio Collection, each gallery will have an offering of Experimental Pottery designs available. Select pieces for each gallery are shown below and many more will be available in the galleries.
Before Ephraim Pottery, potters Kevin Hicks and Ken Nekola, made miniature pottery as part of their work at Rowe Pottery. Rowe had a line of miniatures and sold doll tea sets to the Pleasant Company (American Girl Doll). Miniature-making required a special skill set and when it came time for Hicks to start Ephraim Pottery, he earned extra money working as an independent potter for the “Miniature Pottery” in Edgerton, WI.
Ornaments lead to Miniatures
Hicks’ and Nekola’s experience making miniatures eventually translated into hand-thrown ornaments at Ephraim. The ornaments, in turn, led to occasional experimentation with one-of-a-kind miniature vases. The finely-wrought details and demands in firing present a unique challenge that has taken the studio years to overcome. To date Ephraim has only managed to offer three miniature designs in short-run, limited-editions – all in the last 5 or 6 years.
Little Details make Divine Miniatures
This year, thanks to our master kiln-loader, Alek Schroeder, the fine motor sculpting skills of Ken Nekola and Laura Klein, and the amazing attention to detail and quality of our glazers, Jennifer Alexander, Becky Hansen, and Allison Jelenchick we are able to present you with three miniature designs in multiple glazing options. We are especially proud of the intricate details encompassed in this collection and hope you enjoy them as much as we do.
A New Year – Old Favorites Retire to Make Shelf Space for Fresh Designs
Each year in January and February the studio rearranges shelves, moves pots, and re-stacks tile as we juggle our space to make room for all the new designs coming out of the kilns. So, wistfully, we choose a group of pieces to retire.This year’s selection includes 7 vases, 2 bowls, 1 paperweight and 6 tiles. Be sure to order these wonderful pieces before their editions close and we cease production of these designs on January 29th.
Collectibility and Limited Editions
At Ephraim, we are part of a long tradition of collectible art pottery. Art pottery lends itself to collectibility because historically it tends to have been well marked with “shop marks” and it was naturally limited due to the making process. We have upheld the tradition of marking our pottery and because of the handmade nature of our process, the pieces are limited by the capacity of the pottery. We document how many pieces we make and publish these figures on our website in order to support collectibility.
Our art pottery and tiles are limited editions. Designs in our Studio Collection are limited to a maximum of 500 pieces. We also create limited, reserve and numbered editions of special designs. When a piece of pottery or a tile is retired, we officially close the edition, record the final numbers produced, and never revisit that particular design again.
Sometimes the holy grail of making successful art involves marrying bold design with simplicity. We think about the elements of design all day, every day in the studio.
Here are some of the lessons we have learned over the years for achieving great design in ceramics:
It is important to notice subtleties of form, especially in terms of the line formed by the edge – where the vessel meets the background. Most people don’t think about the artistic element of line when they think about pottery, but line is a critical factor in refined, well-designed pottery.
Bold design is confident. In the same way fluidity and confidence result in a good golf stroke, a fast and fluid pull on the potter’s wheel produces a more confident form. It helps to trust the broad physical motions of throwing pottery and resist the urge to spend a lot of time perfecting a form inch-by-inch.
Often (but not always!) odd numbers make elegant design sense. Likewise, applying the rule of thirds to a piece of art can be a successful tactic. Always be careful about adding design elements that break at the vertical middle of the form as this divides the form in half and disrupts the eye.
Simplicity doesn’t mean simple or even minimal. While simplicity and minimalism can indeed work nicely together, we usually characterize pieces that maximize simplicity as also being well-unified. Sometimes we achieve successful unity through repeating patterns and other times we achieve it through harmonious glazing schemes.
Did you know that we work in limited editions? We make up to 500 pieces of each design. The popular Dancing Dragonflies Bowl is approaching 500 and will retire soon. If you admire this design, order soon!