Art Pottery, Politics and Food
Sunday, March 23, 2003
This continues my March 12,2003 post:

Cincinnati, Ohio 1880

The national importance of the 1879 Cincinnati Industrial Exposition can be measured, somewhat, by the dignitaries in attendance. No less than six of P. T. Barnum’s giant elephants trumpeted the arrival of luminaries such as President Rutherford B. Hayes and heroic Civil War Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip H. Sheridan. A city that had symbolized freedom for slaves traveling the Underground Railroad was now intent upon uplifting itself and all its citizens through an equal devotion to industry and the arts. Little did anyone suspect that within the happy crowds converging upon the new Music Hall there lurked the female generals of a new war whose battles would continue well into the next century.

Mary Louise McLaughlin

The first skirmish in this new war had taken place five months prior to the Exposition in April of 1879 on the unlikely battlefield of a misplaced, lost or unsent invitation. Was Maria Longworth Nichols purposely slighted by being excluded from Mary Louis McLaughlin’s Pottery Club?
I, personally, doubt that she was. The Women’s Pottery Club carried one vacancy in addition to 14 other members on its roster for the eleven years of its existence. Longworth’s personal friend and future secretary Clara Chipman Newton was a member as were future employees Elizabeth Nourse and Laura A. Fry.
Louise McLaughlin, having been frustrated in her desire to become a portrait painter, was intent upon bringing together fellow women who were “…the best workers in different branches of ceramic decoration…” That McLaughlin would purposefully court the enmity of a person as socially and artistically prominent as the tempestuous Longworth Nichols seems very unlikely. The presence of the vacancy on the Pottery Club roster suggests McLaughlin’s intentions were, if not noble, at least honorable.

Maria Longworth Nichols

Whatever the case, Maria Longworth Nichols considered herself slighted and proceeded to work independently albeit in a competitive rivalry with McLaughlin.
One has to wonder who McLaughlin charged with the task of delivering Longworth’s invitation to the Women’s Pottery Club? Could it have possibly been, of all things, a man?
Imagine, if you will, being one of the male artesian craftsman who comprised the laboring class of the new ceramic industry. Veterans of the horrors of the Civil War, these men were intent upon creating a better life for themselves and their families within the constraints of 19th century society.
Unlike the more liberally minded Longworth men and Maria’s husband Colonel Nichols, one feels safe assuming that the working class potters of the Queen City were, to say the least, shocked that members of the fairer sex would desire to dirty their delicate hands with wet clay.
But dirty their hands these upper class ladies did with gusto. McLaughlin was already working at the pottery of P. L Coultry and Company unaware that the men she worked with intended to steal her underglaze painting technique.
Indeed, three days a week the ladies of the Pottery Club descended upon the Coultry Pottery to practice and experiment in all phases of their newly acquired art with the assistance of the male potters.
In May of 1879 Longworth Nichols along with her friend William Watts Taylor visited the Hamilton Road Pottery of Frederick Dallas with a proposal to rent studio space and have use of the kiln.
Dallas agreed and, perhaps smothering a smile, rented Longworth a 10 by 12 foot room on the second floor of the wagon shed in the Pottery yard.
A crude fireplace, a workbench, and two chairs constituted a studio wherein Longworth and a friend, Mrs. William Dodd, worked amid the odor of the horses stabled below. In this crude room Maria Longworth Nichols began her serious experiments in clay and glaze and it was, perhaps, in this room that she began to earn the grudging admiration of the potters whose knowledge she so respected.

The Morgan Tile

Only known glazed example of a Matt Morgan Pottery portrait tile of, possibly, Maria Longworth Nichols, circa 1880

The Book of Rookwood Pottery by Herbert Peck, 1968, Rookwood Pottery Potpourri by Virginia Raymond Cummins, 1991 and Toward a Correct Taste: Women and the Rise of the Design Reform Movement in Cincinnati by Kenneth R. Trapp, 1982

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