Van Briggle Pottery was founded in Colorado Springs in 1901 by a husband-and-wife team (well, not technically, since Artus and Anne didn’t marry until 1902) who had been decorators for Rookwood Pottery of Cincinnati. The most prized Van Briggle pieces are pre-1910, with “AA” (for Artus and Anne) incised on their bottoms. Because Van Briggle used molds for its pieces, production was able to continue long after Artus’s death in 1904.
The acclaim accorded Van Briggle was almost instantaneous. The same year he founded his pottery, Van Briggle took first prize at a show in Paris. The Louvre paid a whopping $3,000 for the winning piece of a male nude wrapped around the opening of a vertical vase. Titled “Despondency,” the piece would become one of Van Briggle’s most famous vases.
In fact, Van Briggle is probably best known for its vases. The “Lorelei” vase, also from 1901, is like a female version of “Despondency,” while “Lady of the Lily” from the same year depicts a female nude leaning against an enormous calla lily. Figurative and floral motifs were a mainstay of the company’s visual vocabulary, although the pottery also produced a number of jugs, whose sides were populated by spiders and spider-like decorations.
One of the other hallmarks of Van Briggle was its luscious satin matte glaze. Hues ranged from Turquoise Ming (still produced today) to a maroon glaze called Persian Rose. Van Briggle was also highly regarded for its architectural tile, which decorated fireplace hearths, chimney tops, and wall fountains.
After some ownership changes in the 1910s, Van Briggle regrouped and continued to produce tall and squat Art Nouveau vases with philodendron, iris, and other floral motifs. Animal figurines became an important part of the company’s line, be it as purely decorative objects and modestly functional ones—elephant bookends, especially in pink, were quite popular. And dragonflies, which had captured the fancy of Tiffany, Lalique, and other designers, also graced the sides of Van Briggle vases.
In the 1930s and ’40s, matching oak-leaf-and-acorn candlesticks shared catalog pages with quarter-moon vases, lamp bases with coordinated shades, and seashell planters, which were sold in the postwar years in 8-, 12-, and 16-inch lengths. Another category of Van Briggle pottery from that era was the American Indian ware, which ranged from tall vases crowned by relief heads of stern-looking braves to small objects depicting Hopi maidens.