The phrase commercial art pottery isn’t quite an oxymoron, but the relationship between commerce and art is at best complex and often at odds. Still, some companies have tried to produce and sell pottery that has aesthetic value beyond the most basic utilitarian purpose. In most cases, companies have found it difficult or impossible to create art pottery that has long term economic success.
Ruscha shape 313 and Scheurich shape 271 would be two notable exceptions, but they took rather different roads to becoming icons of W. German pottery.
Shape 313 was designed by Kurt Tschörner, introduced in 1954 and produced (with variations) until Ruscha closed. Shape 271 was designed by Heinz Siery, introduced in 1959 and produced at least into the 90s.
Although 313 was one of the early, defining shapes in the W. German era, it’s not really accurate to call it a “new” form. Indeed, all forms are variations on what’s known, what’s been done, but Tschörner took what had been done and introduced further exaggerations and turned a utilitarian shape into sculpture. Line, form, and proportion were matched to create a form that was at once bold and whimsical, sleek in line but determined and strong with that forward-thrusting “mouth”.
And the form was clearly a success with the early decors of Milano, Domino, and others. There were, however, just as clearly some conflicts between design and production, which meant conflict between art and commerce. This is revealed by changes in the form. There are at least three shape versions of 313, possibly more. The differences between the first and last versions are clear, with the last version being more upright, less exaggerated, and generally sturdier, thicker in design.
However, there are more subtle design changes that can only be seen with close, side by side comparisons, and it’s not yet clear if there were several gradual changes or if several small changes were made at once before the more radical changes proved necessary. One of the early changes can be seen in the handle, particularly where the top meets the body. The earliest production featured a rather thin, elegant handle, but this strategic point was soon thickened.
This suggests that the original design was too fragile and perhaps too included too many problematic angles. Every pottery item faces several difficult hurdles, starting with simply coming out of the mold cleanly, then enduring time drying, firing, being handled multiple times by cleaners, decorators, and packers. It appears likely that the very first version had issues at several or all of these points.
(It’s worth noting that some early versions were made with dark red/brown clay. These tend to be even smaller with finer lines than the usual white/buff clay items. The same has been true with other Ruscha shape comparisons, so it appears to be a quality of the clay itself. Why they didn’t use it more often is unknown.)
In a sense, Ruscha 313 was designed for the aesthetics and adapted for economics, caught in the gap between desire and reality, theory and practice, a victim of its success. By comparison, Scheurich 271 was designed with an eye to the commercial and other practical aspects from the beginning.
The form has many of the elements already established as part of the 1950s style, slanted top, angular handle, and waisted body, in this case a convex waist. However, none of the elements are particularly exaggerated, and the ratios are all whole numbers, pleasing but safe, no challenge to the eye or mind. The result is distinctive without being different.
That makes it a definitive product for Scheurich. While some companies seemed to focus on forms, Scheurich focused on glazes. The “best” Scheurich forms are the ones that act as displays for the glaze. The form is good and pleasing but doesn’t take the eye away from the glaze. The average Scheurich form is just that, average. Many are bland or even poorly proportioned, but shapes are more than anything else….numerous.
Scheurich often did minor variations on a form over the years to produce a mind-boggling number of shapes, sometimes with the same number. That makes 271 particularly unusual in the Schuerich line because it kept the same shape and the same number for decades.
Ruscha 313 began with a focus on the aesthetic element that proved difficult to maintain, and this was perhaps a sign that Tschörner wasn’t as well-versed in pottery as he was in glass. Otherwise, he might have taken the problems into account the way Siery did with Scheurich 271.However, that would have meant never have the original or slightly modified forms of 313, which would be a great loss. And it may well have been the success of the form that forced Ruscha to increase production, so that the success of the original aesthetics made the commercial aspect more important……causing the diminishing of the aesthetics in the eventual, longest lasting version of 313.
So Ruscha 313 and Scheurich 271 took different approaches, although both were attempts to create some balance between aesthetics and commercial production. Both were successful enough to allow the companies to experiment, and for commercial potteries, there is no success without commercial success. And the commercial successes allow companies to try out lines that may flop, may become icons, or may find themselves in that middle ground. As with philosophy, so it is with art pottery, and there is much to say for finding a balance on the middle road.
Although Gramann items remain under the radar among collectors of East and West German pottery, as well as the broader category of mid century modern, the company was one of the first to start producing volcanic glazes and created the widest range of volcanic glazes of any West or East German company, making it clear that Otto Natzler wasn’t the only one in the region experimenting with such glazes. The work continued when Natzler left Austria, and it surged forward after and despite the political and physical ravages of World War II.
Ruscha and other companies began using some volcanic aspects in their glazes around 1964, and Otto Gerharz developed some powerful volcanic items soon after he started his own studio, but Gramann/Römhild was producing a volcanic glazes by 1956. (This information is pieced together from references in 50er Jarhe Keramik by Horst Makus, 1998. Items are pictured on page 70 with information given on page 101.) To put the work in context with other decors, Ruscha introduced “Milano” in 1954 and “Marakko” in 1956, representing the popular hand-applied Deco Echo designs that dominated styles until the early 1960s.
As with Natzler glazes, the Gramann works can be partly categorized by the size of the craters and by their nature, such as rough or smooth. Some Gramann craters are so fine as to hardly appear volcanic at all, creating a sand-like surface. The most common is a slightly larger, though fine, crater with craters varying somewhat in size from the top to the bottom. These were most often done with the craters left open and a semi-matte glaze, but some
Gramann also produced items with larger craters, typically with smooth edges, and some Gramann items have a “veining” within the craters that adds an intriguing sense of motion to the glaze.
have a clear top glaze that seals the craters and creates a higher gloss. The most common appears to be a light blue glaze followed by a purple and white combination.
The Gramann/Römhild company was somewhere in between being a true “studio” pottery and a commercial pottery. They were big enough to produce a large number of items (though many combinations are uncommon), but they were small enough that most of their items were hand thrown. This may be why most items are also relatively small, in the 6″ range with larger items harder to find. Most forms were simple and clean in design, ranging from elegant to bland….simplicity being rather hard to do well.
Gramann typically used red clays and marked items with a T over R, but the mark is often rather sloppy with the T too often looking like an I. By far, most items were marked, but unmarked Gramann items are known.
Like many of the German companies, there can be some confusion about the name and whether the family name (Gramann) or location name (Römhild) is most appropriate. I tend to use Gramann because it’s more specific, but the company has at times been Töpferei Römhild, Töpferhof Römhild, and possibly Töpferhof Gramann…..among others.
for the day in the Oprah newsletter for February 6, 2006 read, “Your
home should replenish your senses and feed your soul.” Few
companies or even eras offer as many ways to achieve that goal as
does West German pottery. The forms and glazes on West German pottery
are fascinating enough, but when you consider the soil from which
such vitality and whimsy grew, the story takes on another dimension.
Work backwards through history and we have the
economic struggles and political tensions of the 1970’s, the cold war
of the 1960’s and 1950’s. We have WWII, the Nazi repressions, and for
Germany and much of Europe, the slow recovery from WWI. That takes us
to the time of the Bauhaus school, one of the most influential design
schools of all time, an enduring, worldwide influence currently
visible in Jonathan Adler’s designs (which have never been as “new”
as claimed by some, quite derivative).
The Bauhaus school
represented modern, forward thinking, not exactly something the Nazi
party favored. The pottery portion of the school closed in 1925,
followed by the rest of the school in the early 30’s. Energy and
resources were soon poured into the war, but the end result was
psychological, emotional and physical rubble. Surely any art that
could grow from such soil would echo Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
Instead, there came forms such as Ruscha’s shape 313
designed by Kurt Tschoerner, elegance mixed with exaggeration,
surpising, and odd, yet perfect proportions that please the eye and
tickle the senses. Decorations ranged from cute mixed with innocence
to geometric designs that somehow mixed a sense of challenge with a
sense of humor. It
certainly made marketing sense. Instead of Calgon, it was “Pottery,
take me away.” (There were exceptions, such as the darker side
of the “Paris” decor designed by Hanns Welling for Ruscha
and the darker Montmartre Welling did earlier for Keto.)
Through the 1950’s and into the early 60’s, the most
popular designs echoed the Art Deco period, particularly the vitality
of that era plus the insistent innocence that later infused “Happy
Days”. However, unlike the angular, geometric forms of the Art
Deco period, many of the early West German forms featured gentle
curves, just not quite where you expected to find them. While some
forms maintained a classic look, asymmetry gave others the look of
From around 1965 into the mid 70’s, many forms and
colors grew more exaggerated and more intense without losing that
fine sense of proportion and whimsy. In a paradox typical of this
pottery, soothing earthtone glazes were popular at the same time,
sometimes on the same piece with a vibrant orange or other lively Pop
Art shade. Lava glazes and other textural elements added another
level of variety and complexity in that subcategory now called fat
lava (sometimes rightly, sometimes not).
Beginning in the early 70’s, a weak economy began to
take its toll, and factories closed. By the mid 70’s, it was clear
that the special drive that grew out of repression was losing
momentum, and one of the great eras in art pottery was coming to a
close. Wonderful items were designed and produced through the 1980’s
and reunification, but the number and range were significantly
reduced. The more I’m around the better pieces, the more I believe
that the spirit that enabled art and artists to survive was poured
into the pottery, and the vitality went not only into a range of
creativity possibly unmatched for breadth and depth but into the
designs and clay.
This art became not only the result of vitality but
about vitality, and that strength and energy come out in the pottery
even now, radiating into the room. Even the sense of whimsy
underlying so much of the art is about survival because without the
perspective supplied by humor survival becomes about hardness, not
Ways to Collect West German Pottery
Some collectors have stumbled into the W. German
field by buying an item or two at the low-risk cost found at yard
sales or thrift shops. Others have seen some sweet items available
but can’t quite decide to take the chance. Quite often the question
is, “where do I go from here?” What does it mean to collect
West German pottery? That’s a big question for a novice in any
collecting category, but it’s even bigger when the field is virtually
untraveled with no well-worn paths to follow and no books acting as
maps, not even a good idea of what the choices are.
The beginning point is the same in any collecting
field: start according to your taste, budget, and experience. As with
any good philosophy, the idea is simple and straightforward. It’s the
application that’s hard. Budget is the easiest part for most of us,
those who consider the term extra money an oxymoron. Still, just
because we’re broke doesn’t mean we don’t need beauty around us.
Rule number one is buy the best you can afford.
Sometimes that means buying one really good piece, sometimes buying
two or three fairly good pieces. It also means don’t go wild and buy
a bunch of poorly done pieces just for the sake of quantity. Even
though the most widely available items are the tourist pieces, there
are better and worse pieces even within that category.
For inexperienced collectors, there’s a sub-category
of vases with gold glazes that makes a good entry
point. Several companies did items with gold-highlighted glazes. In
this case, that means gold glaze, not just gold that’s painted on. A
gold glaze can be rather tricky, so there’s value in the difficulty
as well as the appearance.
Most of the vases in this category are relatively
small (3-6″) and often have fairly traditional, classic forms.
Prices on these tend to be low, particularly compared to the
aesthetic value, and even when W. German items become more widely
known, many of the simple versions will stay within relatively easy
economic reach. However, there are also nicer items within the
The potential value on the gold glazes is based on
form, glaze complexity, and size. The odd, exaggerated forms
represent the period and will generally be more prized by mid-century
collectors. Glazes with more complex, usually abstract, patterns will
also command a higher price. Collectors of American art pottery will
find some items reminiscent of Weller Cloudburst.
Collectors in this field can work up from fairly mass
market items to the finer versions. Makers include Bay and Carstens,
but the Jaspatina glaze from Jasba is among the best. Items over 8″
appear to be uncommon, and glazes combining red and gold among the
most uncommon. Most of the gold-glazed work dates from 1956 to the
early 1960’s. (The Bay and Carstens items tend to be in the lower
price range, while the better and larger Jaspatina items have higher
While much of the W. German work is unusual in form
and decoration, collectors can often find connections with other
fields to bring a sense of familiarity that may help collectors
determine just where they’re tastes and preferences lie within the W.
German field. For example, many W. German items have archaic
decorations and coloring that fit well with a southwestern theme.
Even glass collectors will find connections,
especially those who collect Blenko or Pilgrim. The strong colors and
emphasis on large items will make those collectors feel right at
home. Collecting through such comparisons also opens intriguing
I’ve found that many collectors get a bit fixated on
a particular item or style, but playing glass off of pottery or one
style with another can create surprising combinations with a feeling
all their own. I know one collector who puts her 1970’s Pop Art vases
alongside her utilitarian crocks and is delighted with the result.
Perhaps the idea just brings out the child in me, going back to happy
hours spent combining blocks in every combination possible and mixing
in other toys just to see what happened.
It’s also possible to collect by shape or glaze. Many
of the shapes were produced for a fairly long period and can be found
in numerous glazes. Two particular examples are Ruscha shape 313
(designed by Kurt Tschoerner) and Scheurich shape 271 (designed by
Hans Siery). Both shapes are fairly easily found, but coming up with
all the glazes could be a lifetime project. Ruscha 313 was produced
for about 30 years and 50 or so different glazes, and the form was
modified somewhat some time in the 1960’s.
Perhaps the only way I don’t suggest collecting is by
name. In W. German pottery, it’s rather difficult anyway since both
the company and the designer are so often still unknown. However, the
real problem is that collecting by name has a tendency to run up the
cost without relationship to any real value. At the moment, pieces
attributed to Bodo Mans sell higher just because of the name, and the
ironic part is that this name value comes from Mans’ connection to
France and Picasso, an odd reason
to buy German pottery. It’s also problematic that many of the items
you’ll find listed as Bodo Mans designs….aren’t.
companies also used a motif that I call a heartstripe, an irregular,
horizontal band of contrasting color around the center of the vase.
These stripes are most often found in orange or red, which suggests a
vitality emanating from the center. In some cases, the stripe is
bound top and bottom by a lava glaze that creates a geological look
and opens numerous philosophical readings for those so inclined.
Scheurich, Carstens, Steuler, and Hutschenreuther were particularly
fond of this motif.
Some of the Mans designs are certainly attractive,
but others are much less so, and there’s serious doubt about some of
the attributions. On the other hand, I’m personally fond of designs
I’ve seen by Cari Zalloni, so there can certainly be connections
between collector and designer. The trick is to always consider the
piece, not just the name.
In some respects, collecting should be done much like
child raising, with a mix of freedom and control. A good collection
really is much like a living thing, growing in often unexpected ways
and sometimes needing to leave some things behind. Fortunately, with
a collection you can sell or give away the items that no longer
please you as they once did, a method not generally approved of with
Still, you don’t have to worry about getting your
collection “right”. You will change, and so will the
collection and your relationship with it. Be willing to take some
chances (within the limits of your budget) and buy a piece that
speaks to you even though it doesn’t seem to fit right now.
Even with the pieces you have at home, think of them
like the blocks you played with as a kid, moving them around, always
trying new arrangements just to see how the relationships change. Try
the soothing items in one room and the eye-poppers in another, then
try mixing them. You may be able to create a sense of story depending
on how items connect.
Most importantly, make sure that your collection
makes you happy. You should enjoy walking into the room more because
of the pottery. And be sure to slow down enough to let the pottery
speak. Let yourself be soothed by that gentle curve or be revitalized
by that orange heartstripe.
Be sure to check out the other parts of the site, including videos, and our W. German pottery for sale. There’s no yellow brick road, but you may still want to start at the beginning. Thanks for dropping by.
Emons & Sohne (1921-1974) was not widely known for a long time except for a few forms and glazes. The problem was that they almost never marked items. However, between labels, catalogs, and additional research more and more items have been properly attributed to ES, and many of those glazes have turned out to be some of the best for commercial W. German art pottery. To see the ES Keramik we currently have for sale, click here. The page will open in a new tab.
If you’re enjoying the ES Keramik gallery, I hope you’ll check out some of the other photo research galleries. The blog has a lot of other information as well, currently mostly about W. German pottery. Of course, the main site also has a lot of East and West German pottery for sale along with other ceramics, glass, paintings, and odd bits. You can find your way to the home page by clicking here, rather than clicking your heels three times. Of course, you’re free to click those heels, too. Either way, the page will open in a new tab.
Hope you’ll visit again and often as well as telling your friends, vague acquaintances, and complete strangers.
Dümler & Breiden: (1883-1992) D&B was one of the many companies in the Höhr-Grenzhausen region, and they produced an enormous range of styles over the years, from very traditional to strong Pop Art. Although they most often used white to buff clay, they did sometimes use red, particularly in their Terra series and other klinker-like items. To see our Dümler & Breiden currently for sale, click here. The page will open in a new tab.
Be sure to check out the other photo galleries, blog posts, and the main site with W. German pottery, other porcelain, glass, paintings, and odd bits for sale. Thanks for dropping by Gin-For’s Odditiques. Please come by again, and tell your friends. Shoot, you can even tell strangers.
Ceramano (1959-84) was started by Jakob Schwaderlapp, who also ran Jasba, to be a higher-end company, more like a studio than most commercial art potteries. Quality was high and production numbers relatively low. While the production from most commercial potteries is all molded (although often with hand work in the decoration), Ceramano did both molded and hand-made pots. Designers included Gerda Heuckenroth and Hanns Welling. Top decors include Pergamon, Rustica, and Rubin plus rarities such as Saturn. Many of the more subtle glazes remain under-rated. Clay color ranges from light brown to very dark brown. This gallery gives just a hint of the range produced, but it’s a start. To see our Ceramano items for sale, click here. Page will open in a new tab.
Previously sold items so people can see more of what Carstens made and learn about W. German pottery. To see our Carstens items currently for sale, click here. Page will open in a new tab. Keep in mind that this doesn’t even qualify as the tip of the iceberg, hardly a hint of the tip. Also, the items here focus on the better production. While Carstens Tönnieshof produced a lot of high quality items, they also made their share of lower end wares.
An Introduction to East and West German Pottery Volcanic Glazes
Long before most people had noticed West German pottery, a few
German sellers on eBay used the phrase “fat lava” to describe the
unusually thick, often flowing glazes on some items. Based on that
usage, the term appears to have been a slight mistranslation, shifting
“thick” to “fat”, with thick meaning depth, or how much the glaze rises
above the surface of the clay, not a matter of viscosity.
A few years later, Graham Cooley held an exhibition using fat lava as
part of the title, and Mark Hill published the expanded exhibition
catalog Fat Lava, which brought the phrase to wider attention, and the
phrase was fun enough to catch on, perhaps too well. Soon, people were
equating fat lava with all mid century modern German pottery, but the
reality is that only a small sub-group fits the term, and many of the
finest works are not fat lava at all.
I’m attempting to bring a degree of regularity to the usage by
defining some of the terms so we can discuss both the larger category
and sub categories with more precision. It’s rather tricky because
there are a number of terms that can mean different things, and the
variety in the glazes is enormous, so please be patient as I sort
through the variables.
Quite often, a fat lava glaze runs down over another glaze. In
broader terms, this is a drip glaze, and it’s been used for a long time.
In American art pottery, drip glazes are probably best known on Fulper
Pottery or some Roseville lines, such as Carnelian. Excellent drip
glazes were also done by Belgian and French potteries in the early 20th
century. On these earlier versions, there is little or no difference
in the thicknesses of the top and bottom glazes, so one type of fat lava
glaze is a drip glaze, but it’s only fat lava if one of the glazes
involved is “thick” enough.
Color is in no way involved in whether or not a glaze should be
called fat lava. There are many fiery orange and red glazes on mid
century German pottery, often suggesting the color of hot lava. Some of
these glazes have a flowing or drip quality as well, but it remains
thickness that’s a defining characteristic. If it’s not “fat”, it’s not
On the other hand, there are many “fat” glazes in colors that look
nothing like lava, hot or cold. If we start using color as a
distinguishing characteristic, then we have to start coming up with so
many different names that communication becomes even more difficult
than usual. So we’re better off calling a thick, flowing white glaze
fat lava even when it doesn’t quite make sense in some respects. Like
so many things, language is based on compromise.
proper use of certain ingredients can cause controlled (somewhat)
gaseous explosions in the glaze, producing holes of different types.
These are called volcanic glazes. One of the best known creators of
volcanic glazes is Otto Natzler, who came to the US from Austria with
his wife Gertrud in 1938. By coming to the US, Natzler was able to
continue his glaze experiments at a time when all art was increasing
repressed in Germany. As a result of that repression and the war, it
was about 1965 before German companies began producing volcanic glazes.
Many of the mid century German volcanic glazes are also quite thick,
but it’s also possible to make fairly thin volcanic glazes (which
describes most of the Natzler glazes). So a volcanic glaze will always
be visually suggestive of lava (or the moon), but not all volcanic
glazes are fat. The texture of a volcanic glaze can also vary with
large or small craters and sharp or smooth edges. Gramann(Töpferei
Römhild) made some of the best, flowing fat lava glazes, but they also
made many volcanic glazes that are relatively thin with small, tightly
of the most common uses of volcanic glazes is actually in applied
designs, usually with a fairly fine, pumice-like glaze. However, even
though these designs are thicker than the primary glaze, the difference
is often not very extreme, so whether or not these qualify as fat is
variable. Still, since there’s no point in trying to establish a
precise measurement for at what point a glaze becomes “fat”, most of
them can probably be called fat lava. Indeed many or most of the items
in the first Fat Lava exhibition and catalog were simply fat lava
“detailed” with only a small part of the surface covered in the namesake
glaze. I expect that we’ll eventually establish a sub-category for
Volcanic glazes often have little or no “flow” to them, but given the
texture a thick volcanic glaze should certainly qualify as fat lava. In
fact, the fat lava volcanic glazes probably significantly outnumber the
fat lava drip glazes, and the volcanic is probably the more accurate
term, while fat lava happens to be more fun.
Some companies named glazes “Vulkano” (Volcano) or “Lava”, so we
need to be careful with our usage and distinguish between official glaze
names and the other uses of the words.
Take note that not all fat lava volcanic glazes are German. Also,
there are companies that use lava pieces in the glaze or decoration.
While in a technical sense these are volcanic and lava, we need to use
terms carefully. These probably shouldn’t be called fat lava, and the use of volcanic should be made clear in the context of any discussion.
Obviously, my only “authority” for saying what should or shouldn’t be
called fat lava comes only from observation and experience, and there
will always be disagreements about language. Still, I hope this will
get people to think about both what they see and what they say and
appreciate the value of precision in both. The world opens up in
fascinating new ways each time we learn to see a little more clearly and
in a little more depth. As many have said before me, the world doesn’t
really exist until an artist makes us see it, but we have to learn to
do some of the work when the art calls to us.
1. Vases with no handles are numbered in the 800 sequence; jugs in the 300 sequence; and two-handled vases most likely to be in the 60 sequence.
2. Early work tends to have hand “painted” marks that often include the company name. Later work will often have an embossed “Ruscha”. In between, it was
common to have only numbers or number and country.
3. Ruscha mostly used white/buff clay but did use red clay from time to time, apparently most often in the late 50s to early 60s. The same shape in red clay tends to be slightly smaller with finer detailing than a version with white clay.
4. Many top form designers and glaze artists worked at Ruscha at
one time or another, including Kurt Tschoerner, Otto Gerharz, Hanns Welling, and Adele Bölz
5. Otto Keramik owns some of the molds, including the steer/bull and has issued items in various glazes. In most cases, new versions are fairly easy to pick out if you are familiar with older glazes. However, they seem to have reproduced a few early glazes well, not
surprising since Otto Gerharz Sr. developed many of them at Ruscha. (Contemporary volcanic glazes tend to be “flatter” than originals and may have less distinct coloring.)
6. My understanding is that Scheurich now owns the Ruscha name. Since Scheurich has taken advantage of interest in vintage items by re-issuing some of their own successes, they may try to use the Ruscha name in the same way. Always buy pottery based on quality, not “name”.
7. The iconic Ruscha 313 form was revised at some point, although when remains unclear. Shape changes made the 313 easier to produce in larger numbers, which is likely a main reason why the revised version is more common. Some of the later glazes, however, are still spectacular.
For more information and items for sale, please visit our home page.
Photos used show an original form 313, a later version of shape 333 (Ruscha did re-use some numbers.), and a Quadriga plaque….Bianca not included.