The art pottery movement began in the 1870s in America and Britain, coinciding roughly with the beginning of the Arts and Crafts movement, which gained momentum in the 1880s. Art pottery was more elaborate than utilitarian pottery and more aesthetically focused than decorative figurines. Early art-pottery pieces were usually hand-decorated, signed by the artist, and produced in limited numbers.
Many companies known for their art pottery, like Rookwood, Roseville, Frankoma, and Weller, were founded in the American Midwest in the 1880s and 1890s. Drawing on local deposits of clay and minerals, most of these companies started by making simple, decorative pottery pieces or utilitarian pieces such as flowerpots and other garden ware.
What ultimately set these companies apart were their ornamental designs. Rookwood and other Midwestern companies took inspiration from Asian designs and Art Nouveau styles, creating pieces that were both functional and beautiful. They worked in a variety of popular forms, from vases to bowls to wall sconces and decorative tiles.
Some art pottery makers, like Rookwood, eventually grew into large operations, producing pieces in quantity and marketing them nationally via department stores and catalogs. But many smaller studios also thrived in the heyday of hand thrown and decorated art pottery.
Other noteworthy makers of art pottery include Hull, McCoy, Charles Volkmar, Chelsea Keramic, Lonhuda, George Ohr, Newcomb College, Grueby Faience, Adelaide Alsop Robineau, Artus Van Briggle, and the Saturday Evening Girls.