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Muncie Pottery – Bringing Beauty to the Masses

With popular magazines like Elle Decor stocked near the checkout line and design blogs available at the tap of a screen, recommendations for home decoration are never in short supply. This year, House Beautiful predicts that pendant lights, pedestals, and traditional tableware will be all the rage. A century ago, art pottery found itself near the top of the list. More elaborate than utilitarian pottery, art potters focused on aesthetic qualities, putting beauty first and function second.

The unique orange peel glaze was used by Muncie Pottery in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Overstock pieces, such as this unglazed example, were sold or given to groups that painted them for gifts or fund raising. They were also sold to schools for use by students.

In Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky art pottery found an easy home. Rich in high quality clay and natural gas for firing kilns, potters were drawn to the area. Well-known pottery firms such as Rookwood and Weller formed with countless others following suit. While many produced pricey, hand-decorated pieces in limited numbers, others turned out affordable alternatives marketed to the masses. This second model appealed to Muncie Clay Products Company who created thousands of pieces of art pottery during the 1920s and 1930s. Focusing on beauty as well as price point, the company produced a combination of quick-to-make molded and hand-thrown pieces. By producing each design in large quantities and using a variety of glazes, they produced pottery that was both artistic and affordable.

Like many of Muncie’s well-known manufacturers, Muncie Clay Products Company’s history is tied to the gas boom of the late 19th century. In 1892, James S. Gill moved his company, Gill Clay Products, from Ohio to Muncie. He set up shop next to the Ball Brothers canning jar factory and began making industrial clay pots for melting glass. As time passed and the reserve of natural gas diminished, the company was reorganized. In 1918 it became the Muncie Clay Products Company and refocused on utilitarian pieces for home use as the demand for industrial products waned. They also added an art pottery line made under the name Muncie Pottery.

A Muncie Pottery employee glazes art pottery pieces.

Over the next two decades Muncie Pottery produced countless pieces of art pottery. Their forms ranged from vases to candlesticks, and bookends to lamps. Decorated in matte and glossy glazes, Muncie’s pieces came in a rainbow of colors. Not only sold locally, Muncie Pottery found its way into homes from coast to coast via department stores such as L.S. Ayers and Marshall Field’s.

This vase was made for Charles Mayer & Co., a retail store in Indianapolis.

Most pieces were very affordable, while others stretched the wallet a bit further. In the late 1920s, Rueben Haley, a well-known glass designer and sculptor designed several pieces for the company. Greatly influenced by modern European design, Haley’s Ruba Rombic Line showcased his ability to turn two-dimensional cubist ideas into three-dimensional masterpieces.

Part of the Ruba Rombic Line, this sugar bowl was designed by Reuben Haley.

As the Great Depression took its toll, the company struggled with decreasing sales throughout the 1930s. By 1939, Muncie Pottery was forced to shut its doors. Production ceased and the company liquidated a few years later. In 1968, the pottery’s former plant caught fire and burned to the ground.

The bottom of this bowl is stamped “Muncie 3A.” The “Muncie” imprint was first used in 1927. The “3” indicates the molder and the “A” the finisher.

While Muncie Pottery’s home may no longer exist, beautiful examples of its art pottery do. If you suspect you may have a piece of Muncie Pottery in your home check out the Collectors Encyclopedia of Muncie Pottery for more information. You can also start your exploration online with the Minnetrista Heritage Collection.