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Interest has grown in the Arts and Crafts pottery pieces by William Grueby


September 26, 1993|By Lita Solis-Cohen and Sally Solis-Cohen | Lita Solis-Cohen and Sally Solis-Cohen,Contributing Writers

Grueby's simple and elegant vases, designed by George Prentiss Kendrick, a leading architect of the day, were an immediate hit, winning awards here and in Europe. Architect Addison B. Le Boutillier joined the design team later. In the Arts and Crafts spirit, no molds were used. Most Grueby vases were hand-thrown on a wheel, with relief decoration (such as leaves, buds and flowers) applied by young women who laid ropes of clay against the still-damp vessels and modeled them into prescribed forms.

Unique glazes

What distinguishes Grueby vases from competitors' works are the opaque, non-glossy mat glazes he developed using a secret formula. "The wondrous thing about Grueby glazes are the ripples, the feathering, and the variations from dark to light tones resembling cucumbers, zucchini and watermelon rind," observed New York collector Robert Hut. "Many potters copied Grueby, but none came close to duplicating the quality and character of his wares," he added. The most desirable Grueby vases have a second color and modeled flower decoration. Top quality two-color pieces, with colors that don't run into each other, bring thousands of dollars.

Grueby vases came in yellow, white, oatmeal, brown, several shades of blue, and ubiquitous cucumber green. No two batches of glaze were the same, Mr. Hut observes, noting that, "Not every Grueby vase succeeds. Some didn't cook right. The challenge is to find the great ones, the show stoppers in intense green, yellow, ocher, and brown. The most successful are green ones which break into lighter tones at the edges of the leaves applied to their classic shapes."

Less than 10 percent of Grueby's vases are dated, so except for identifying some early pieces that were coiled (rather than wheel-thrown), it's difficult to date the fruits of his labor.


Nearly all Grueby art pottery has an impressed mark, though sometimes a heavy glaze obscures it; few authentic pieces are unmarked. Some marks read: "Grueby Faience, Boston USA" with a lotus blossom in the center. Others say: "Grueby Pottery, Boston USA." Attached paper labels also were used, though few survive. Authentic Grueby ceramics never were marked with an ink stamp, but Michael Witt cautions that ink-stamped fakes of the circular Grueby mark are turning up in the marketplace on ordinary green-glazed art pottery vases by other makers.

After the heyday of the Arts and Crafts movement, Grueby's work was virtually forgotten for nearly half a century. Because it's made of easily chipped soft clay, much Grueby pottery probably was sent to the dump over the years. Collectors discovered Grueby about 25 years ago, when it turned up regularly at flea markets and estate sales, priced well under $100 per piece. Since then, prices rose along with interest in the Arts and Crafts movement and American art pottery.


It's difficult now to unearth Grueby vases from the fields of flea markets, so most collectors rely on specialist dealers or auctions. Dealers generally offer common foot-high green glazed Grueby vases for $1,000 to $3,000 each; smaller ones usually fetch several hundred dollars each. Cathers & Dembrosky, in New York City, has a dozen Grueby vases for sale, including a $9,500 14-inch high green mat glazed vase with sculpted leaves and yellow buds. A 7-inch-high glazed vase with modelled leaves and flowers is priced $2,500.

Among the Grueby offerings at JMW Gallery in Boston are a 6-inch-high green jardiniere ($750), a 9-inch vase with leaf and bud decoration ($2,400), and a scarab-shaped paperweight ($425).

Dealer David Rago will be offering three pieces of Grueby pottery from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Dillenberg-Espinar in his November 7 auction in New York City. A rare 21-inch vase with green leaves and yellow buds, and a 12 1/2 -inch gourd-shaped ocher vase with applied leaves designed by architect George Prentiss Kendrick, are expected to fetch $17,000 to $20,000 each. A rare 16-inch-high two-handled vase with applied red and blue flowers may soar to $27,500.

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