Paul Revere Pottery of the Saturday Evening Girls’ Club
The watchwords of the [Paul Revere] Pottery are good work, pleasant conditions and fair pay. Every piece speaks of loving individual touch… the pottery aims to be a happy, healthful, wage earning occupation.“A Social and Business Experiment in the Making of Pottery,” Handicraft, February 1911
The Arts and Crafts movement, as much a reform program as it was an international design revolution, was carried forth with great vigor in the United States. From its inception, with efforts such as Chicago’s Hull House, Newcomb Pottery in New Orleans, and Boston’s Paul Revere Pottery, there was a focus on social welfare and an increased emphasis on women and their role in the arts. Many female artists, such as ceramist Mary Chase Perry Stratton who founded Pewabic Potteries in 1903, established their own workshops. Other women, particularly immigrants and those of middle- to lower-class status, were encouraged by Arts and Crafts reformers to seek employment in art-related industries, particularly in art pottery studios and manufactories.
In this milieu, Edith Guerrier (1879-1958) and Edith Brown (1872-1931) followed a philanthropic approach that sought to empower young women and immigrant children in Boston’s North End through the decorative arts. Guerrier, a librarian at the North Bennet Street Industrial School (a settlement house and manual arts education institution), and Brown, an artist and children’s book illustrator, received financial backing from the progressive philanthropist Helen Osborne Storrow (1864-1944). Their collaboration began with visions of a summer camp in West Gloucester where young ladies would create commercially viable pottery to offset the program’s $10 fee. By 1907, Storrow had purchased and funded the renovation of a four-story house in Boston’s North End. There, the Saturday Evening Girls, as they were known, created functional pottery wares, with charming designs such as this Goose Bowl. Brown and Guerrier named the endeavor “Paul Revere Pottery” because of the close proximity to the silversmith and Revolutionary War patriot’s house and the Old North Church, where the lantern from his midnight ride hung.
In keeping with American Arts and Crafts pottery trends, the Saturday Evening Girls’ wares–mostly toilet sets and tableware–were characterized by bright matte colors, conventionalized designs, and simple, flat decorative shapes. Brown was the major force behind the shop’s master designs, which the girls then copied onto their wheel-thrown pottery. Given Brown’s career as a children’s book illustrator, it is no surprise these goods were conceived for children’s use and thought to be well-suited for the nursery.
His Plate, made for John and Helen Troy’s first born son James, and the Goose Bowl represent the pottery’s whimsical goods that featured stylized plants and delightful animals prancing and strutting across the surface. The rabbit was a favored motif for Arts and Crafts designers, widely used by Dedham Pottery, Newcomb, and others, though its increasing use for children’s wares may also reflect the rising popularity of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, first published in 1902. Similarly, the Goose Bowl, decorated by Albina Mangini, was one of the many versions of that fauna, described in a 1911 Ladies Home Journal article as “Goosey-Goosey Gander” themed. Many of the Pottery’s motifs were based on nursery rhymes, and the design of the bowl reflects the influence of Walter Crane’s illustrations for Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes (1877) in which “Goosey, goosey, gander” appeared. While Brown was responsible for the designs, the young women’s handicraft was prominently recognized: each item was marked on the base with “S.E.G.”, for the Saturday Evening Girls’ Club, signed with the initials of the decorator, and dated.
After 1915, Paul Revere Pottery saw many changes and began to run solely as a thriving financial business with a staff of full-time professional decorators. The pottery continued in operation until economic interruptions caused by World War II forced its closure.
Published July 24, 2020