Locations: Costa Mesa
Dates of Operation: 1946 - 1960s
Seller Values: Check average price on Ebay
|1950s Dinnerware Book Denwar Stetson Iroquois|
Current Price: $39.95
Current Bids: 0
Ends in: 3d 15h 49m
|Vintage Handmade DENWAR Ceramic Tiles Mosaic Pink/Peach/Salmon|
Current Price: $12.50
Current Bids: 0
Ends in: 10d 13h 3m
|NEW Denwar Ceramics: The Beginning by Esther Dendel|
Current Price: $18.77
Current Bids: 0
Ends in: 24d 13h 55m
Despite the fact that there is pretty much only a single line of ceramics that Denwar produced, it remains one of my favorite California pottery productions. I just like the unusual shape of this “Bantu” dinnerware, which appears in various speckled colors named cola brown, gibi green, guinea gold, thatch, benin blue and bombo smoke. So far, I’ve come across all the colors in stores except for gibi green.
The Denwar Bantu shape is unmistakeable once you see it for the first time - the basic theme consists of oval egg shapes that may have one or two ends “cut off”, with variations on the cups, creamer and other items. I think of some of the pieces as the “Mola mola” (ocean sunfish) of the ceramics world, haha. They just have that interesting truncated shape, although Chipman’s Encyclopedia notes that the shape was originally based on the symmetry of an “egg” and I do see the shape resemblance on some of the bowls. The other reference says that the Bantu shape is inspired by the work of Liberian artists. I believe both could be true.
Bantu is a speckled dinnerware line - usually it has brownish red or black speckles. In most of the pieces I’ve seen, the speckle seems “smeared” rather than a clean dot. There are a whole host of companies who maded speckle ware glaze like this, but I’m going to say that Denwar’s reminds me most of Laurel and of Santa Anita Ware. The speckling seems less “crisp” and distinct than that on Bauer, Monterey (the speckle dinnerware, often attributed to Vernon), GMcB and Metlox.
As far as marks go - most pieces of Bantu I’ve come across have had an impressed backstamp like the one seen in my photos below. They usually say “Denwar Calif“, but sometimes also include the line name, as in “Bantu by Denwar Calif.” I’m unaware if they ever used paper labels on their pottery.
Denwar was started by the husband-wife team Jo Dendel and Esther Sietmann Warner around 1946 in Costa Mesa. There are some good histories online (here and here) so I’m not going to delve too far into it. The two met in Liberia, Esther being a ceramicist / woodworker and Jo being a botanist. (At the time, I believe Esther was actually married to Robert Warner, another botanist?) They’re perhaps more well known for the series of books about their travels in Africa than their ceramics.
They stopped the ceramics biz in the 1960s and actually switched to ceramic tiles and mosaics. I’ve seen a few photos of what I believe are Denwar production tiles used in mosaics - I need to do some more research to see if these really were from Denwar. But there is actually a great story about an artist named Buddy who purchased Denwar’s remaining stock of tiles after they went out of business. You can read more about it on Karen’s Rainbow Mosaics website.
Later on in the 1970s, they took a new direction and started working with textiles. Actually, there is a current store in Costa Mesa called “Denwar Craft Studio” that I believe Jo Dendel is still active with (Esther passed away in 2002). I would like to visit the studio someday.
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