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Rookwood Pottery: Connecting Design and Heritage

My introduction to Rookwood Pottery began shortly after I moved to Cincinnati. New to the city, just a handful of friends and colleagues, I dove into the local culture to connect to my new home. On an evening out with my visiting parents and grandmother, we went to dinner and a show at Mt. Adams Playhouse in the Park. At the suggestion of a friend, we ate at a restaurant that was in the old tudor style Rookwood Pottery facility, with kilns big enough to dine in.

Years later, our first home had the famed Rookwood Fireplace, I mean how cool is it to have a valuable work of art in your home? So I admit, it wasn’t fancy, but I was proud to note that the same tiles lined the Ice Cream Parlor at Union Terminal. The distinctive sage green color is still available today.

Founded in 1880 by Maria Longworth Nichols, Rookwood Pottery produced ceramics and faience tiles into the 1960s. Rookwood Fireplaces were a staple in Cincinnati homes built in the 1920s. You can find Rookwood tiles in many art deco buildings across the Midwest and even in the New York City Subways. It thrived in the 1920s, but struggled after the Great Depression, changing hands and shuttering its Cincinnati operations. Nearly sold to an overseas company, Rookwood assets were put back into limited production in the 1980s by a Michigan dentist, Arthur Townley.

Today, the Mt. Adams restaurant is gone, and my family has moved out of our turn of the century bungalow, but Rookwood Pottery was given a re-birth in 2006 and moved back to Cincinnati. It is now in full production of pottery and artisan tile lines that remain true to its iconic brand. They have a modern facility in Over-the-Rhine with a showroom and two retail locations.

Glazes: Signature (gloss and matte), Heritage, and Studio. Iconic glazes are reminiscent of the standard glazes from the historical Rookwood hues. Glaze options can work with modern designs or for historic restorations.

Organic shapes and designs: The variety of sizes and shapes can be mixed and matched.

Front left to right: Rhapsody, Starburst Ripple Petite, Starburst Ripple Classic, Linwood Whimsical. Back left to right: Rhapsody, Fiori. Glaze: Copper Canyon Gloss (my personal favorite)

Studio Tile: Hand carved and hand painted to create beautiful works of art

Chesapeake: combination of Chesapeake Flora A, B, C, & D, Chesapeake Iris A, B & C, Chesapeake Butterfly and Chesapeake Bee

Patterns: mix and match tile sizes for creative designs

Clockwise from top left: Starburst Classic & Petite, Square and Rectangle, Vice Versa A & B; Oasis Classic & Petite

Artwork: Don’t have a construction project? Choose some pottery for your décor

So why chose Rookwood Tile for your next project? Obviously, it’s gorgeous and has infinite creative potential, mix and match colors, textures and patterns. It truly brings a work of art to your space. You are supporting a local business with deep roots in the community. This company was on the brink of extinction and it was brought back not for the mighty dollar, but for a sense of our past and our future. Think also about how cool it was that this was founded by a woman in the 19th century. Maria didn’t even have the right to vote at the time she started this business. Mind Blown.

Something to consider: since this is a hand-made product that is produced in relatively small quantities, your order quantities must be spot on. If you get too much, they won’t take it back because it won’t exactly match the next production. If you get too little, supplementing it with a new production run may result in color variations that aren’t ideal. Make sure your architect/designer draws up the design accurately to help ensure proper quantities. And double check (measure twice, cut once…).

Free factory tours are available every Wednesday at 10:30am at the Cincinnati Factory/Showroom, 1920 Race St. Private tours are also available or attend their Spring Open House May 11 & 12th

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