Hand-painted decoration on a porcelain pitcher during the American Art Pottery movement, 1880-1890
Wisconsin women were prominent in the American Art Pottery movement. This is an example of hand china painting on a porcelain pitcher done by Susan Frackelton of Milwaukee, 1880-1890. Source: Wisconsin Historical Museum object #1958.1328c

Women played a central role in the American Art Pottery movement, both as leaders like Pauline Jacobus and as workers like Lulu Deveraux Dixon.

The popularity of hand-decorated ceramic art grew out of the china painting trend of the late nineteenth century, when thousands of women around the country took up the art of painting on porcelain. While simply a hobby for many women, others turned porcelain decorating into a professional artistic venture.

One of the leaders of the china painting trend was Susan Frackelton of Milwaukee. In addition to painting and selling her own work, Frackelton patented a portable gas kiln, developed her own line of glazes, published an instruction manual (“Tried By Fire”, 1885), and established a nationwide organization of china painters known as the National League of Mineral Painters.

Photograph of Susan Frackleton painting a piece of porcelain
Studio portrait of Susan Frackelton, sitting at a table painting a bowl, surrounded by her art work and a large medal. Caption on back reads: “Mrs. Susan S. Frackelton of Milwaukee, WI. Artist in ceramics and inventor of the gas kiln, frequent exhibitor of decorative pottery and medal winner at leading expositions in the United States and Europe in the 1880s and 1890s. Chicago Times Herald, Sunday, Feb. 17, 1901.” Source: WHI 8857.

Another Midwestern china painter, Maria Longworth Nichols of Cincinnati, Ohio, was a major influence on the Pauline Pottery.  In 1882, Pauline Jacobus took courses in ceramic design and production at Nichols’s newly established art pottery, the Rookwood Pottery. When Jacobus returned to Chicago to establish her own pottery she brought along two Rookwood employees—designer Laura Fry and kiln builder John Sargent. Jacobus also adopted the system of production in use at Rookwood.

This story was edited and adapted from EKP’s original Curators’ Favorites article


Brandimarte, Cynthia A. “Somebody’s Aunt and Nobody’s Mother: The American China Painter and Her Work, 1870-1920” (“Winterthur Portfolio” 23:4, 1988, pp. 203-224).

Owen, Nancy E. “Rookwood and the Industry of Art: Women, Culture, and Commerce, 1880-1913” (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2001).

Montgomery, Maurice. “Edgerton’s History in Clay: Pauline Pottery to Pickard China” (2001).

Pagel, Ori-Anne. “Pauline Pottery: A Pictorial Supplement to Edgerton’s History in Clay” (Edgerton, WI: Arts Council of Edgerton, 2003).

Wisconsin Pottery Association, “Significant Wisconsin Pottery Companies” available online at www.wisconsinpottery.org/wis-hist.htm.


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This story is part of the Curators’ Favorites Collection at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Explore the whole collection here!

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