Locations: Venice, Fallbrook
Dates of Operation: 1955 - Present
Seller Values: Check average price on Ebay
2009.11.17 Robert Maxwell Flower Pot
Robert Maxwell is one of my all time favorite California ceramicists. Despite that, I only have a few of his pieces so far. One of the reasons for this is that I’m not so much of a fan of his iconic “Beasties” line of little animal figurines. These, along with various cast vases, are what you normally see from Robert Maxwell. What I like are his handmade and roughly hewn stoneware flower pots, vases and containers. These are somewhat harder to come across.
I’m not going to go too much into depth about Maxwell because there is already an amazing e-Book reference for anyone interested in his work. This website is curated by California pottery author Jack Chipman and various other folks interested in Robert Maxwell’s work. As far as I know, it contains the most accurate and indepth look into the history and contributions that Maxwell has made. I strongly suggest that people read this website for more information.
One of the reasons the e-book s so thorough is that, not only is Maxwell still alive and creating pottery, but he also contributed directly to the website. In addition, I recently found out that he works as an art teacher at a secondary school that is only a few miles from where we live!
Maxwell studied at UCLA under famed potter Laura Andresen. He worked with David Cressey, who is well known from his tenure at Architectural Pottery. As I said previously, his Beasties are what most people know him for.
There is also a controversial relationship that Maxwell had with Treasure Craft. I have very mixed feelings about the issues surrounding this. According to Chipman (and therefore, most likely Maxwell himself), Treasure Craft opened up a partnership with Maxwell in order to help with production of cast items. This was set up as a division of Treasure Craft, known as Pottery Craft. But according to the e-book, this arrangement was allegedly only created in order for Treasure Craft “to acquire his working knowledge, clay body, glazes, glazing style, and master molds although the latter were evidently never used.”
I see a lot of people online selling Pottery Craft items and saying that they are designed by Maxwell. As far as I know, it’s more correct to say that they are INSPIRED by Maxwell. The similarities between Pottery Craft and Robert Maxwell’s own cast stoneware are remarkable - today this kind of copying would be called a knockoff. However, because the Pottery Craft knockoff designs were such faithful reproductions, and because this type of pottery has been getting more popular with the midcentury movement, it’s hard to completely ignore Pottery Craft.
In fact, I’ve got quite a collection of Pottery Craft pieces, whereas I only have a few genuine Robert Maxwell items. I feel a little conflicted about this, as I know Pottery Craft didn’t benefit Maxwell at all - but as a collector, I just collect what I like. And there is a TON of pottery craft out there that you can pick up for very cheap. In addition, because a lot of it often goes unrecognized, it’s a lot of fun to hunt for Pottery Craft because it turns up quite a bit in thrift stores.
The handmade items by Maxwell are usually marked with an incised signature, sometimes sort of difficult to read. I believe some Beasties and other items are marked with an inmold mark, while others had stickers only (or both). The one cast vase that I have is a distinctive orange oval sticker that reads “Robert Maxwell Stoneware Handcrafted Designs California”. Maxwell also had a brief partnership with David Cressey making pots under the name “Earthgender”. These pots sometimes turn up signed with that name. There’s more information on marks in the E-book.
Another reason that Pottery Craft items are so often confused with Maxwell items is that they also used paper stickers. And even though the stickers clearly say “Pottery Craft”, they were often removed. Many Pottery Craft items are marked on the SIDE of the vase, but people do not see it or recognize it, and thus the item may be attributed to Maxwell.
Robert Maxwell is still producing pottery to this day, and occasionally his newer work shows up in online stores. I hope to increase my collection of Maxwell one of these days. Even though he’s such an important figure in California pottery, I feel he’s still under the radar as far as potters go.
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