Tradition Meets Innovation

David Rago on Teco Pottery

Teco’s work is sometimes dismissed as falling short of high-end Arts and Crafts pottery because the ware is mostly, if not entirely, molded. Additionally, their interpretation of the organic matte green glaze made famous by the Grueby Pottery has a relatively even surface with little variation in color or texture. And yet, all the major museum collections in the United States include at least one serious piece of their work with the understanding that no representation of the Arts and Crafts in this country would be complete without it. 

Teco is pottery of the Prairie School, a curious hybridization of the European, medieval roots of Arts and Crafts and the Modernism of Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. The use of machines, as well as specialization of roles, were always more welcome in the American adaptation of the Morrissian ideal, which was one artist seeing a piece all the way through, entirely by hand. Machines and small assembly lines—both utilized at Teco—were not in concordance with such European rigor but allowed for considerably more innovation in design and technique and kept the prices more affordable than Morris’ work ever was to the middle classes. 

Add to this artistic milieu the clean slate that Chicago became after the great fire of 1871, which left the city ripe for a rebuild. Modern methods and design provided a template for new construction which, ultimately, became manifest in the decorative arts. With lines influenced by the flat prairies of the Midwest, the best Teco pots echo all these elements in some of the most beautiful art pottery made at the turn of the last century.

This jardinière has always been recognized as one of the company’s most powerful works, combining slip-casting with the hand-tooled details necessitated in the forming of the arrowhead leaf handles. The glaze is deceptively rich and allows for hints of the buff clay to show at the edges, while also collecting at the handles to create some variation in color and texture. The present lot hails from an important private collection and is of the few we have ever offered for sale.