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Kogan, Murphy led the art ware designs

Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a series of articles by Red Wing Collectors Society members as part of Red Wing's sesquicentennial celebration as well as the 30th anniversary of the society.

With improved glass containers and more access to refrigeration, stoneware sales plummeted at Red Wing Union Stoneware in the 1920s. The company shifted focus to art ware and dinnerware production.

A comprehensive sales catalog dated August 1931, prominently displayed glazed art ware, and between 1930 and 1940, the potteries in Red Wing produced a thousand new designs. These represented about one half of the art ware shapes produced at Red Wing Potteries.

Salesman and distributor George Rumrill contracted for much of the early production from 1932-37. After the relationship with Rumrill soured, Red Wing Union Stoneware Co. (reorganized as Red Wing Potteries in 1936) enrolled the services of two main designers from 1938 until the plant closed in 1967: Belle Kogan and Charles E. Murphy.

New York-based Kogan produced her first art ware commissions for Red Wing Potteries in 1938. She introduced the "Belle 100." This glazed ware, in assorted colors of peach, brown, ivory, and aqua, featured many different designs from 14-inch vases with deco styling to ashtrays and whatnots for everyday use.

Red Wing introduced Kogan's popular Magnolia Line in 1940. The first 24 pieces featured a prominent flower, often in an ivory glaze highlighted by brown detailing.

On Dec. 1, 1940, Red Wing Potteries hired Murphy as resident designer. During his first month, he developed the Brittany and Orleans hand-painted dinnerware that were introduced at a wholesale show in Chicago during January 1941. Murphy trained two women to paint the designs who later trained two more women and so on.

The following summer Murphy introduced designs for cookie jars: Chef Pierre; Katrina (the Dutch girl); and Friar Tuck. These jars, often filled with cookies when sold, were popular department store items.

Red Wing's 1942 catalog featured a line of carefully crafted figures. Murphy developed this more expensive line to market to jewelry stores and other special outlets. This short-lived line had finishes often in mat gray or tan with areas of shiny turquoise over glazing.

In 1947, Murphy developed a modernist line of vases, bowls, and candlesticks with square bases. The original glazes were crackled white, turquoise, and chartreuse with bronze-colored bases and interiors. Murphy related that these glazes "separated on firing and the pieces were dipped into India ink, which was then wiped off to create the crackled effect." He also used the crackle glazes on some other art ware and a few lamps.

Although his annual salary increased modestly from an initial $3,600 to about $4,000 in 1948, Murphy left Red Wing for a better paying job at the Stetson China Co. in Lincoln, Illinois. He worked there from 1949 to 1953. Among his designs for Stetson were several lines of dinnerware and a centennial plate for the city of Lincoln.

The B-prefix

During Murphy's absence, Red Wing Potteries again commissioned Kogan. She designed a series of figures and several lines of pottery that epitomized early 1950s styles. The shapes were often amorphous and curvilinear with "Red Wing" and a shape number impressed on the bottom. Kogan added the B-prefix to many of the shape numbers of this era, noting her designs.

For various reasons, Murphy returned to Red Wing in 1953. The company's new president, Harry Barghusen, had put several salesmen in more of a management role. Murphy sat with the sales team and reviewed designs that Red Wing Potteries would market.

Murphy returned not as a full-time employee but on retaining fees and royalties. He now lived in Minneapolis.

Murphy designed several hundred more art pottery shapes for Red Wing, often adding an M- prefix before the shape number. His specialty lines included carved Sgraffito, pastel-colored Garden Pottery, Hobnail Ashtrays, the classic Doric Ensemble, color-ringed Chromoline, and the beautiful glazes of the Decorator Line.

The Decorator Line appeared in Red Wing's spring catalog of 1959. Among the most distinctive examples were modernist bottle shapes with crystalline glazes. Their rich luster sometimes gave the containers a glossy finish, almost metallic in appearance.

"When I designed these, my purpose was not only to design a container but an art piece as well. I consider the one with partial figures rather 'arty,'" he said.

Also some of the most interesting of Kogan's designs followed. In the fall of 1962 she created the Prismatique Line that was inspired by the complex geometry of a tooth's roots. The sharp linear lines defined the many facets of each piece that were often glazed on the outside in a rich orange.

During an interview in the early 1990s, I asked Murphy if there were any of his designs that were his favorites. He paused and said, "I wouldn't mind having a pair of the white-glazed cowboys to hang on my wall."

Murphy designed the 22-inch cowboys in 1961. Examples are on display at the Red Wing Pottery Museum and can be viewed on line at the Red Wing Collectors Society Foundation Web site: rwcsfoundation.org.

When Red Wing Potteries closed in 1967, Murphy focused on wildlife painting, working mainly in oils. After he gained recognition at multiple art shows, Rudolph Lesch of New York distributed his prints. He died March 12, 1994, in Sedona, Ariz.

Kogan continued her designing and moved to Israel in 1994 where she died in 2000.

Convention nears

The two prominent designers of Red Wing art ware have passed, but their designs will fascinate and charm generations to come. Collectors will have opportunities to purchase Red Wing art ware by Kogan and Murphy during the 30th anniversary of the Red Wing Collectors Society in Red Wing on July 12-14

For more information, contact Stacy Wegner at (651) 388-4004 or e-mail RWCS1@redwing.net.