Preserving Queen City Memories One Ceramic at a Time
Photography provided by Rookwood Pottery Company
Since reopening, Rookwood Pottery Company has restored its legacy as a world-renowned ceramics company. Now, the legendary local business is partnering to preserve its history, as well as Cincinnati’s, through commemorative art tiles, ornaments and other ceramic pieces.
“Hometown pride is a prominent value throughout the entire company. Rookwood is proud to be located in Cincinnati and founded here 137 years ago,” says Mary Guanciale, art director for Rookwood Pottery. Founded in 1880 by Maria Longworth, Rookwood was named after Longworth’s family estate on the East Side of the city.
Rookwood has partnered with Boca restaurant and Coppin’s at Hotel Covington to create handcrafted custom dinnerware. The prestigious pottery company has also created commemorative coasters, as well as the champion’s trophy for the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament since 2012. The coasters are available online for purchase.
Rookwood also worked with the E.W. Scripps Company on commemorative pieces for the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Each participant who went to the championship in Washington, D.C., received a handcrafted piece of Rookwood Pottery adorned with Scripps’ company motto, “Give Light,” the event’s core values and a bee motif that mirrors the Bee’s champion trophy.
“We were honored to partner with such an iconic national event.” says Guanciale. “We’re one of the few companies agile enough to do one-of-a-kind projects like this, while being capable of doing it at a full production scale.”
Rookwood also made a commemorative coaster for the Cincinnati Bell Connector in 2016. The ceramic streetcar coasters were so popular that Rookwood produced another set in additional glazes.
“Commemoratives are a good opportunity for us to connect with other businesses and produce ceramic pieces to be cherished by people in Cincinnati and beyond,” Guanciale says.
Rookwood, which was one of the first female-owned manufacturing companies in the United States, also has produced beer steins for local breweries including Braxton Brewing Co., Taft’s Ale House and Christian Moerlein Brewing. Presently, Rookwood and Rhinegeist are partnering to create a commemorative stein that will be released late 2017.
“We’re thrilled to partner with our neighbors for this project,” Guanciale says. Rhinegeist is across the street from Rookwood’s Race Street studio and showroom in Over-the-Rhine.
Another current partnership is with the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Fiona, the baby hippo who has become a social media star, is getting a commemorative ceramic keepsake: her own Rookwood Pottery Christmas ornament.
“We’re one of very few businesses that the zoo has officially partnered with on a Fiona project,” says Guanciale. “It was a natural partnership. The zoo has something to celebrate and Rookwood is delighted to have the opportunity to create this commemorative piece.”
As with most of the commemorative projects, Fiona’s ornament will have a limited production run and they’re going to go fast. The ornaments will be available at Rookwood’s Holiday Open House November 10-11 at the studio and showroom location.
To create the heirloom-quality pieces like Fiona’s ornament, the design concepts begin in the creative department. From initial concept to final product, each piece goes through 14 sets of hands before it’s complete.
“The process here is truly handmade. We’re dedicated to maintaining that type of artisan quality,” says Guanciale.
After the design is finalized, it’s sent to mold makers, who carve the piece into a 3-D object, then a plaster mold is created. Each ceramic piece is cast by hand and slip – the liquid form of the clay – is poured into the molds. Once the clay is set, the artists touch up every detail by hand, whether attaching pieces or smoothing the seam lines, before bisque firing the piece. Bisque firing removes all chemically bonded water from the clay, which creates the ceramic material, preparing the piece for the fifth step – glazing.
Rookwood has its own proprietary glazes that range from dry matte to an ultra-shiny gloss. The glazes have a tonal fluctuation that ensures that each piece is unique. For the final step, glaze firing, the ceramic is fired in the kiln at a temperature high enough to guarantee the piece is strong enough to last. This is also where the piece receives its glass-like finish.
Every single piece of pottery goes through this process, whether it’s 500 ornaments or 50 art tiles. Rookwood made the latter small limited run of Cincinnati Music Hall carved reliefs for the historic venue’s grand reopening in October. And in the future, Rookwood Pottery plans to continue building its commemorative projects in the Greater Cincinnati community.
“If it’s happening in Cincinnati, we’re exploring opportunities to partner with businesses to create a ceramic piece to celebrate it,” says Guanciale.
The Rookwood Pottery studio and showroom is located at 1920 Race Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202. For more information, call 513.381.2510 or visit www.rookwood.com.