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Fry, Laura Anne Earthenware Vase, 1885


Laura Anne Fry, born in White County, Indiana, was one of the most gifted of the artists in the 19th-century Women’s Art movement. Her pottery is highly praised. She was born into a family of prominent woodcarvers and studied woodcarving with her father and grandfather. In addition she studied drawing, painting, pottery, and design with other teachers. After study in New York she took up pottery in Trenton, New Jersey, and continued in England and France. She taught in Cincinnati, at the summer school of Chautauqua, New York, and later at Purdue University.

In 1883 she was a decorator at Rookwood Pottery, in Cincinnati, where she helped develop a new technique of using an atomizer to apply slip glazes to pottery. While the atomizer itself was not new, the technique was, and this discovery revolutionized the industry. Fry retired from Purdue in 1922 as head of the industrial art department. She founded the Lafayette Art Association.

The Rookwood Company was the best known of the companies in the Cincinnati area that formed the Women’s Art movement. Maria Longworth Nichols founded Rookwood Pottery in 1880. The building was constructed in 1892 and used until 1967. Rookwood was named because of the large number of crows, or rooks, that inhabited the area. Almost all of the clays were found locally. The different colors of clay resulted from various minerals, such as iron oxide, rutile, and titanium. The idea for the pottery first began with a women’s ceramics club; members’ work was exhibited at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The women were so impressed with the Japanese pottery they saw there that they returned determined to experiment with new tints and glazes.

  • Earthenware Vase, 1885
  • 6 5/8″ x 3 9/16″
  • Art Museum of Greater Lafayette
  • Keywords: ceramics, vessels, earthenware
  • Subjects: vases

This earthenware vase is a standardware piece with a frontal decoration. Standardware items were not unique; many vases of the same shape were made. The artist potter would then put an individual design on just one side. All the decorating was done when the piece was leather-hard, including the sgraffito, a scratched in design. On this example the ginger clay body had a clear amber glaze applied. This illustrates the atomizer technique that Laura Anne Fry helped to develop.

Some Points to Consider

  • Ask students: Why did women form the Women’s Art movement? Where do you think most women were working in 1885? Were many women making art? (Art 4.1.1)
  • Have students compare glassware made in Indiana to this vase. Ask: Which do you think was most useful, ceramic or glass? Which was most beautiful? Which product do you think most Hoosiers preferred? (Art 4.1.2)
  • Ask students where they see Japanese influences in the vase. Show them Japanese ceramics from the same period for ideas. (Art 4.2.2)