Founded in 1880 by Maria Longworth Nichols, Rookwood pottery is a favorite of art pottery collectors for the quality of its pieces, which were hand-decorated by a diverse group of artists (though some simpler pieces were mass-produced, especially during the Depression).
Rookwood pieces were sold at the factory showroom in Cincinnati, Ohio, and at jewelry and department stores nationwide. Drawing from European and Asian styles, the company was very involved with the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements, and its pieces are still prized as some of the best examples of those styles.
In addition to its signature vases, Rookwood also produced architectural tile and smaller items such as bookends, paperweights, and figurines. There were between 20 and 25 artists decorating pieces at the Rookwood factory at any given time; some of the most notable included Kataro Shirayamadani, Albert Valentine, Sara Sax, and Jens Jensen.
Rookwood’s artists were innovative and helped change the way art pottery was created and designed. Kataro Shirayamadani covered entire pieces with decoration versus just the front as was previously done, while Laura Fry created the atomizer, allowing artists to evenly apply glazes and use color gradations. In the early 1900s, Rookwood artists began using matte finishes and vellum glaze, a translucent matte glaze.
Collectors should note that the vast majority of Rookwood pieces are clearly marked. Early pieces say “Rookwood” and later pieces (starting in the mid-1880s) feature the Rookwood logo, which features a backwards R and P side-by-side. Rookwood closed its factory in the 1960s, but the copyright was continuously enforced. Then, in 2004, the company was revived in Cincinnati, where today Rookwood artisans continue to produce everything from vases to mugs to candlesticks.