Jan 1, 2014 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
You could say pottery was in the Rhead blood: G.W. Rhead worked in the pottery industry, taking his young son Frederick Alfred under his wing. Years later, Frederick Alfred went on to advise and influence his own two children: Charlotte and Frederick Hurten Rhead. All three had prolific careers, but we’ll focus on Charlotte and Frederick Hurten’s work in this article.
Creativity and the pursuit of excellence was drilled into both young potters and as a result their work is sought out by collectors world wide. Join us as we learn more about these two famous siblings and how Rhead pottery can be identified!
Like her contemporary, Clarice Cliff, she liked to focus the eye and played with color and movement. Her love of color and dynamism could be attributed to childhood memories. At the age of seven she became housebound and had to work hard to get past a limp she developed in an accident during her adolescence. As a result, she was a shy, introverted youth who channeled her struggles through art. Overcoming obstacles also explains the joyous nature of her designs (and makes her work so desirable).
Her career started by working with her father and then transitioning to a tile decorator at T & R Boote. Charlotte asserted herself as a successful tubeliner, which soon became her preferred technique. During her time away from the family firm, she developed a popular pattern called “Rhodian” and worked for A.G. Richardson in the early 1940s, developing new designs and a well-known pattern called “Stitch” (named after embroidery naturally). Her final days were spent at Wood and Sons where she passed away at age 62 in November of 1947.
Marks for Charlotte Rhead’s pottery may be confusing. From 1921-29 works bear the printed mark “Bursley Ware/England”, but do not include a name. In 1923 she did use her middle name in print: “Lottie Rhead Ware/Burlsem/England”, whereas during 1926-31 some pieces have the painted signature “L Rhead” alongside the name of the ware: Burleigh Ware or Bursley Ware.
Sometimes other initials appear (denoting the decorator or tube liner). In later years, 1931-1943, collectors will find the Crown Ducal mark with the signature of “C Rhead.” For the final years, 1943-60s items will read as follows: “Bursley Ware/Charlotte Rhead/England”.
- If Charlotte’s full name appears with the name Bursley ware, it’s not an early piece.
- Keep in mind that some items will only have pattern numbers noted.
What is tubelining?
Susie Cooper is first the ceramic decorator known to enhance this ancient technique. The following summarizes her modern approach: first one traces the design onto biscuit ware, using a rubbing charcoal over small holes punched along the outline of design. (This perimeter tracing is called a pounce.) Next one uses a syringe-like utensil to place wet slip (liquid clay) along the outline. By doing this, the clay leaves a raised outline for the painters, who then fill in the outline with colors. To finalize the work, the item goes to the kiln for firing, then receives a glaze, and a final re-firing. The image of Charlotte’s work is a great example of tubelining and you’ll see it’s an approach her brother used as well. This may also be referred to as “squeeze-bag technique.”
Frederick Hurten Rhead
Mr. Rhead contrasted his immediate family, spending much of his career in the United States. He created his own firm called Rhead Pottery which enjoyed a brief run from 1913-1917. Perhaps he is best known for creating the iconic Fiesta Ware line for the Homer Laughlin China Company in the mid 1930s.
In early 1927 Rhead became the art director at the Homer Laughlin China Company, based out of West Virginia. This would be a position he would hold until he passed away in 1942. Fiesta Ware was inspired by spherical designs common in the Art Deco period. The original pottery came in five colors and customers were encouraged to mix and match colors. It became an instant success and soon Rhead followed with a “Harlequin” line sold exclusively at Woolworth Department Stores.
In addition to his ceramic work, he also composed a pottery correspondence course for People’s University. During this time, he would enlist the help of his wife to make vases and tiles at the university. After a few years he and his family moved to California.
When they first arrived in California, Rhead worked for Marin County and taught pottery classes to patients at the Arequipa tuberculosis sanatorium. Not content with a mere pottery course he set the bar high with his efforts. He taught tubelining, new glazes, and compelling decorative techniques. Upon being replaced, he started his own studio. His career post-1917 is largely composed of commercial works.
Some pieces may be marked on the bottom with a simple “F.H.” You may or may not see an “R.” His work may not even be marked at all, but a trusted shop adviser will know how to identify his signature style. Learn more about identifying his work here and here.
Cause A Frockus would like to thank our tremendous resources: Wikipedia, Antiques Roadshow, the book “Clarice Cliff & Her Contemporaries: Susie Cooper, Keith Murray, Charlotte Rhead & the Carlton Designers” by Helen C. Cunningham, and the people who share their images without restriction.
For our readers: Do you collect Rhead work? Do you have a favorite Fiesta ware color?