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How Architectural Pottery Brought the Exterior to the Interior

June 15, 2012 by Nicholas Forrest in Art Market with 0 Comments

An exploration of the relationship between the exterior and interior of residential and commercial buildings has given rise to some of the most interesting and exciting design objects produced during the modern era.

As part of the Design Loves Art event held at the California’s Pacific Design Centre (PDC) in conjunction with the West Week 2012 interior design trade conference, an exhibition titled Material Matters, Geometry, Repetition, Order + Proportion: Typological Implications of Material was presented at the centre which consisted of twenty-five works by five architects.

Rex Goode. Pig Planter

Rex Goode. Pig Planter

In the spirit of re-purposing mundane materials that characterizes current design practices, the architects who took part in the Material Matters exhibition were given the challenge of re-envisioning the 25 wok-like white concrete planters that populate the PDC as specific sites to explore the intersections between art and design.

It was in the same spirit of re-purposing mundane materials and exploring the connection between architecture, art and design that the Architectural Pottery company was founded in Los Angeles in 1950 by Max Lawrence and his wife Rita who saw the commercial potential of work being produced by ceramic students under the guidance of LaGardo Tackett at the California School of Arts.

After seeing the designs that resulted from a challenge Tackett gave to his students who were asked to create designs to fill a void in the home accessories market, enterprising couple Max and Rita Lawrence were so impressed that they seized upon the opportunity to produce and distribute the designs on a commercial scale. Talented designers and artisans such as David Cressey, Malcolm Leland, John Follis, Raul Coronel, Rex Goode and Marilyn Kay Austin Potters were called upon to provide designs for the company.

Considered radical at the time, the cone, cylinder, bullet, gourd and totem formations that were a feature of the company’s designs proved popular with interior designers and architects. The large-scale geometrically shaped vessels that were the signature pieces of Architectural Pottery were identifiable by their clean, simple, graceful and pure forms which allowed architects and designers to incorporate them seamlessly into their homes and buildings.

Commenting on the architectural and design trends that were influential at the time that Architectural Pottery was launched, Rita Lawrence said, in a statement to an editor in 1965, that “Southern California then (1950) was exploring a way of making living space of the outdoors – a way of life that has since been adopted nationally and even internationally. Architectural Pottery provided a portable landscape and a focal point in garden plantings, then carried the motif into the home and office.”

As it turned out, Max and Rita had identified a new niche market for geometric earthenware that would take advantage of the flourishing modernist architecture movement which had developed in South California after World War II. Soon after it was launched, Architectural Pottery attracted the attention of famous architects such as Richard Neutra and John Lautner who ordered pieces from the company for modernist homes they were designing. Further recognition came by way of a “Good Design” label awarded in 1951 by New York’s Museum of Modern Art to a number of designs from the company’s first catalogue, some of which were also included in an exhibition at the museum.

Prices for Architectural Pottery peaked between 2006 and 2008 in conjunction with the peak of the art market boom. At the height of the price peak, Chicago based Wright Auctions sold one of the most spectacular and iconic designs produced by Architectural Pottery, a model IN LaGardo Tackett Totem sculpture, for $15,600 against an estimate of $7,000–9,000.

Unfortunately, the market for Architectural Pottery appears to have suffered as a result of the art market correction and the global financial crisis though signs of improvement have emerged over the past couple of years. Although a sad occasion, the death of Max Lawrence in August 2010 at age 98 seems to have been a catalyst for renewed interest in the objects produced by the company that he co-founded.
Sotheby’s March 7, 2012 ‘Private Collection of Mid-Century Design and Ceramic Art’ auction included a number of Architectural Pottery items, the highlight of which was a spectacular Earthcells planter produced for Architectural Pottery by David Cressey that sold for $4,375 against an estimate of $3,000-$5,000.

Also offered at the Sotheby’s sale were three different lots each consisting of six vessels by designers such as LaGardo Tackett, John Follis, Malcolm Leland and Rex Goode, all of which achieved good prices. Two of the lots achieved $7,500 against high estimates of $8,000 and $9,000 respectively while the third lot sold for $6,875 against an estimate of $6,000 – 8,000.

One of the most unusual objects produced by Architectural Pottery was model G99, which was designed by Rex Goode and known colloquially as the “pig” planter. A version of Goode’s planter sold at Los Angeles Modern Auctions on the 26th of June 2011 for $8,750 against an estimate of $2,500-$3,500. Bonhams Los Angeles also sold one of the “pig” planters along with a similar peanut shaped planter in 2009 for $7,320.

Even at the height of the Architectural Pottery price peak, the objects being sold at auction were undervalued. However, thanks to the increasing integration of objects of design into the mainstream art market and a greater appreciation for the contribution made by producers of less popular art forms such as ceramics, the future of the market for Architectural Pottery looks positive.

Although the Architectural Pottery company ceased production in 1985, Vessel USA Inc. was founded in 1998 to revive the stunningly simple planters and other ceramic designs that brought acclaim to the Architectural Pottery Collection.

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About Nicholas Forrest

Nicholas Forrest is a Sydney/London based art market analyst, art consultant and writer. He is the founder of the Art Market Blog (artmarketblog. com) which offers independent commentaries, research and analysis on the current art market.

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