From the collection: World’s Fair plates

"Ye Olde" Potters


 I found one of these plates at a yard sale. In researching it, I found that it is one of a pair, so naturally I had to track down the other on ebay.

  The plates are souvenirs from the 1939/40 New York World's Fair. They have relief sculpting, depicting medieval potters at work- one is throwing on the wheel, the other is decorating a pot. 

  The backs have some interesting marks. One logo says " The American Potter" (which is ironic considering the European craftsmen in the image), and "New York World's Fair 1940". It also says "Joint Exhibition of Capital and Labor"- can you imagine any product saying that today? There is also a second logo- the union "bug" from the National Brotherhood of Operative potters.

  Some ebay listings describe these as made by Homer-Laughlin, but I have not seen any evidence of this.

  The National Brotherhood of Operative Potters was founded in 1890 in the East Liverpool, OH region. It was organized by the workers of the midwestern potteries, seceding from the Knights of Labor-affiliated of unions in the dominant, older, more mechanized potteries of Trenton, NJ.  The unions were  later unified, and by 1911 had approx 6,500 members. You can read a good short history of the union here.

    I have mixed feelings about these plates. I like the union identification and the history. I also feel that, technically, these illustrate what can be done with relief-sculpted, molded decoration in a jiggered, industrially produced plate. And mostly I like the idea of ceramics that illustrate people making ceramics.

  On the other hand, the sculpting, while complex and illustrative, is a little awkward, and the figures kind of goofy. And I find the "medieval" imagery kind of Disneyesque-silly-corny, as if both labor and management feel that they need to justify their industry by associating it with some romantic notion of the noble guild craftsman. 

  I suppose, in the end, I'm just intrigued by the fact that potters are depicted in these plates. 



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