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WVXU Celebrates 140 Years Of Rookwood Pottery, 'The Crown Jewel Of Cincinnati'

Courtesy Rookwood Pottery
This large table top hand-thrown vase is available in the Rookwood Pottery catalog.

After just 20 years in business, Cincinnati's Rookwood Pottery was "the greatest pottery in the world."

And it "wasn't because we said so – the French said so," says Rookwood historian and author Anita Ellis on WVXU's Rookwood Pottery: A Cincinnati Treasure. The two-hour special airs 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 20, on WVXU and WMUB.

Credit Courtesy Rookwood Pottery
Rookwood offers Cincinnati tiles featuring the skyline, Roebling Suspension Bridge, Union Terminal, Fountain Square and Music Hall.

Cincinnati Public Radio celebrates the 140th anniversary of Rookwood Pottery with authors Ellis and Bob Batchelor; Rookwood Pottery President and CEO Micah Carroll; local pottery expert Riley Humler; Rookwood collectors Kevin Ruthven and Anne Arenstein; illustrator Loren Long; and tile setter Tony Kalti.

Producer/host Lee Hay has been fascinated by Rookwood Pottery since she bought her first piece for 10 cents at a Price Hill yard sale in the 1980s – about 100 years after founder Maria Longworth Nichols started producing Rookwood in a former schoolhouse on Eastern Avenue on Nov. 27, 1880.

Credit Courtesy Rookwood Pottery
Rookwood celebrates Fiona's birthday with these bowls for Graeter's Ice Cream.

Hay picked up a few more pieces over the years, including a Cincy Blues Fest mug, but the Fiona ice cream bowls really got her attention.

"A friend and I attended Fiona's third birthday party at Rookwood Pottery on Race Street in January, and we also went on a tour of the factory, which was fascinating," she says.

Cultural historian Batchelor calls Rookwood "the crown jewel of Cincinnati." The former Miami University visiting professor last month published a book for the 140th anniversary, Rookwood: The Rediscovery and Revival of An American Icon – An Illustrated History.

Credit Courtesy Anne Arenstein
Collector Anne Arenstein owns this 1932 gardenia bowl with matte celadon green glaze.

After her Around Cincinnati Sunday night arts and entertainment show was canceled in August, Hay "realized that the story of Rookwood Pottery's 140th anniversary needed to be told somehow, so I proposed a one-hour special which has turned into a two-hour special due to all the historical information the guests shared with me."

Listeners will hear about Rookwood collections, including at the Cincinnati Art Museum and the 52-pieces from the James J. Gardner's private collection featuring American Indians displayed in the University of Cincinnati's Gardner Neuroscience Institute lobby.

They'll also hear how people around the world have collected Rookwood. Mark Twain loved the Cincinnati potter so much that he obtained an experimental piece which he sent home to his wife in Hartford, CT, Hay says.

Hay's next special will be a one-hour show at 11 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 24, about the 1970s Reflections night club at Vine and Calhoun Streets.   

Doug Yeager, one of the club's co-owners, and others will talk about some of the rock stars who played there: Aerosmith, Allman Brothers Band, Boz Scaggs, Chubby Checker, Chuck Berry, Doobie Brothers, Edgar Winter, James Gang, Little Feat, Lynyrd Skyrnd, Pure Prairie League, REO Speedwagon, Spirit, Yes and ZZ Top.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.