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Ceramic Arts Studio



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The Ceramic Arts Studio of Madison, Wisconsin was begun in 1940 by Lawrence Rabbitt and Rueben Sand. Rabitt, an art student at the University of Wisconsin, had received funding from the Works Project Administration to find applications for native Wisconsin clay.

The company at first sold hand-thrown pots made by Rabitt. Then a chance encounter led to great success. In 1942 a secretary employed by the State of Wisconsin, Betty Harrington, had dug a new well at her house and saw her children playing with a modeling clay that they had excavated from the well. Harrington, who had no formal training in art beyond high school, but who had always kept a sketch book, had shaped an incense burner from the clay. Looking for someone to fire and harden the model, she happened to pass a building on Blount Street with the sign Ceramic Arts Studio.

The owners liked her work so well that they asked her to design other items for them.

At this time there was a strong demand for figurines in department stores and gift shops. The source of these figurines, Germany and Japan, had dried up due to the war. Figurines made by California potters such as Kay Finch were available, but relatively expensive.

Rueben Sand proved to be a brilliant business manager. The little figurines wholesaled for as little as fifteen cents. Sand attended trade shows and approached buyers from department stores. He maintained an especially good relationship with the buyer for Marshall Field's in Chicago, who provided feedback as to which items were most in demand. Ceramic Arts Studio received excellent distribution in major cities.

At one point in the early 1950s, Ceramic Arts Studio was churning out around 500,000 figurines per year. Harrington sculpted animals (she was known for her skunks), children, fairy tale figures, head vases, ethnic dancers. Ceramic Arts Studio is credited with introducing the shelf-sitter, figures of people or animals that will sit with their legs or tail dangling off a shelf.

Ceramic Arts Studios fired their clay in a one step process. Paint was put directly on the clay, which took great care. Early pieces had a murky glaze, but the bulk of production had a clear, glossy glaze.

Almost all of the figurines were designed by Betty Harrington. To get the figurines just the way she wanted them, she also designed her own molds. A crew of mostly women hand-painted details on the pottery. The figurines are known for their brilliant colors, their flowing form, and their whimsical nature. It would be fair to say that as a sculptress Betty Harrington was as all-American as Norman Rockwell was as an artist.

Among her most famous achievements are dancing figurines inspired by Martha Graham, including Comedy and Tragedy, and an ornate group of Archibald the Dragon, Lady Rowena, and Saint George on a charger.

By 1953 imports resuming from Japan had drastically cut into the sales of Ceramic Arts Studio. Although the imports were of poor quality they could be sold much cheaper. Ceramic Arts Studio went out of business in 1955.

Many Ceramic Arts Studios products are marked on the base. Those that are not often have a daub of paint near the pour hole. Although this was originally intended as a quality control code it can sometimes serve to confirm the origin of an item.

Standard references include Harrington Figurines by Sabra Olson Laumbach (Ferguson Communications) and Ceramic Arts Studio, The Legacy of Betty Harrington by Donald-Brian Johnson, Timothy J. Holthaus, and James E. Petzold (Schiffer publishing).

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Vicki Young
PO Box 435
Randolph, OH 44265
330-325-7866

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