American Art Clay Works

     Sometime, probably in Summer 1890, Pauline Jacobus sent a letter to Hjords Pottery, in the City of Ronne (roon eh), Bornholm Island, Denmark.  Situated in the Baltic Sea, Bornholm is an irregularly shaped, somewhat rectangular island, about 24 miles long by 20 miles wide, some 22 miles from Sweden's southerly tip.  The island surface is generally hilly, rising to a high granite point on the northern tip with abundant fine clay beds.  Farming, fishing, brewing, weaving, clock- and pottery-making were the islanders primary occupations.  Ronne, the principal city, had about 10,000 people and was on the west coast, about 120 miles by sea from Copenhagen.

     Perhaps through her connection with the then-forming Rock County World's Fair Committee, or possibly from family connections, Pauline Jacobus knew of the Hjords Pottery at Ronne.  She wanted a potter, or several potters, possibly a modeller and a moulder she wrote, for her pottery at Edgerton, Wisconsin.

    Thorwald Phillip August Samson, born March 5, 1870, was the youngest son of Andreas Peter and Dorothea Kristine Samulson Samson.  The mother had apparently been dead some time, when his father died in 1876, leaving Thorwald, then six years old, and his older brothers, Karl, Marius, Hans and Jens, orphans.  The younger boys, Hans and Jens, twelve and nine, respectively, were sent to a farm to learn shepherding.  The two older boys, Karl and Marius, respectively eighteen and fifteen, went to work at Hjords Pottery the where the father had been a master-potter.  Thorwald was sent to school half-days, and then to the pottery to work with his older brothers.  Now, at age twenty, a plain, but good-looking man of average height, with a shock of slightly wavy hair, parted on the right, high forehead above wide spaced, bright, piercing eyes, and prominent long nose, over a straight line mouth, full lower lip and strong chin, he was just completing a six-year master-potter apprenticeship at Hjords when Pauline Jacobus' letter arrived.

   Having many times overheard Samson's expressed interest in going to America, knowing he wanted to join his thirty-two year old brother, Hans Christian Anderson Samson, a skilled linguist speaking five languages, and now professor of languages at Lake Forest theological seminary near Chicago, who had immigrated several years before, his employer probably handed the letter to Thorwald with the suggestion that he answer the writer.  He did so.  Arrangements were made, and he accepted a job with the Pauline Pottery Co.

     In the Summer of 1891, Thorwald P.A. Samson, and Louis Ipson, probably also a trainee-employee at Hjords Pottery, immigrated from denmark to the united States, coming overland to Edgerton.   In the meantime, Thorwald made arrangements for his fiancee, Martine Christianne Nielsen, to follow him to America within the year.  Once in America, she stayed with a Danish family, friends of her parents, who had immigrated some years before and settled at Morgan Park, near Chicago.  She worked as a domestic servant, while learning to speak, understand and write English at night. 

    During the winter of 1891-1892, Thorwald Samson and Louis Ipson experimented with the making of terra-cotta figures, statues, from Edgerton clay.  Some of the figures were offered for sale, probably through the Pauline Pottery shop, and found a receptive market and quick sale.  Then in the spring of 1892, Hans C.A. Samson, quit his Lake Forest professorship, and with his family, joined his brother, Thorwald, and Louis Ipson in Edgerton.  The plan was for the three to go into business for themselves, if backers could be found.  After first giving careful thought to Chicago as a location for the new business, and, although they had wealthy backers who would underwirte the cost of the new business, they decided to stay in Edgerton with its close proximity to clay, and the lesser cost of living.  Plans were announced for a new studio building to be build near the brickyard on Lawton Street, and a new kiln, for which they already had a model prepared, erected.  The new pottery plant, west of the Pauline works, would be put up in about eight weeks and readied for work by late Summer.  Production was started up in early Fall 1892.

     On December 2nd. the Rock County World's Fair Committee heard from Pauline Jacobus "...representing the Pauline Pottery Co. ...presenting a plan for the exhibition of some pottery..." at the fair.  The following week the committee met again and agreed to purchase "bronzed" figural statuary from the new American Art Clay Works and decorative art-pottery from the established Pauline Pottery Company.  "Bronzed" American Art Clay Works' figures were also advertised for sale at the Samson Brothers and Ipson's pottery shop in the new studio on Lawton. St.

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

IV. THE WORLD'S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION YEAR - 1893

 

     The Edgerton Community was stirred in the first part of February 1893 with a series of grand, old fashioned, revival meetings spread over a two week period.  Banded together, the churches decided to awaken the torpid spirits of Edgerton and embolden the faith of the townspeople.  Although the committee of devout churchmen could not secure the evangelist of their first choice, he being committed elsewhere at the time, they arranged for the services of the Reverend George Newton of Chicago, formerly from California.

    A man of positive and determined thought, he preached sin and salvation, and awakened a "...remarkable religious interest."  "By the end of the first week he was cutting down sinners right and left...his hearers had their peccadillos rehearsed.  The bad little boys of Edgerton enjoyed the meetings hugely, ...valuable as revealing the shortcomings of their elders.  ...Even your ministers are backsliders traveling the road to wrath...", he said, and heads in the congregation bobbed "...excitedly by the declaration."

     Among the most fervent attendees of the revival meetings were the brothers Samson who were now engaged in the manufacture from Edgerton clay of classical artworks, among them, the renowned statue of Venus de Milo (mee low).  On the day of his departure, the Reverend George Newton, to thank them for their fervor, attendance and support, called on the brothers at  the American Art Clay Works.  He was greeted by serried rows of Venuses naked above the thighs.  Taken aback, the good reverend stood in shock, for a moment, or two, with hands upraised. Then a philippic of denunciation, a torrent of words flew about the bewildered brothers, "...declaring that the artist putting such things before the public does a great wrong and will be held accountable by God for any soul that may be lost through their influence..." the evangelist seized one of the offending statues about the neck and flung it against the wall, shattering it into hundreds of pieces that flew about the room.  Then preacher, sculptor and brother, together, smashed several hundred more statues of Cupid's mother standing about two feet tall on the long drying tables.  All were taken up and dashed to pieces against wall and floor until the room was littered with fragments of Venus.  Although the brothers Samson, without regret, destroyed the offending statue, and remained steadfast in their decision to mold no more of them, Mayor Andrew Jenson, did not take it so calmly, seeing a significant portion of his profit and investment in the clay-works lying smashed on the floor, for the Venus statue had been a quick and easy seller, and brought a good return.

     By early-March, the revivalist fervor had quieted in Edgerton, the American Art Clay Works, and the Samsons were back to work.  Thorwald Samson began work mid-February on a life-size bust of President Grover Cleveland, which had been ordered from the Clay Works by the State board of World's Fair Commissioners to adorn the Wisconsin Building at the fair.  Relying on photographs, Samson had completed the model by early-March, prepared the mould and made the cast by the end of March, and finished the life-sized work by mid-April, in time for delivery and placement at the fair.  "Those who have examined the statuary say it is a very correct representation of the President.  The figure is molded of light terra cotta clay and in execution reflects credit upon the Art Clay Works of Edgerton."

    The World's Columbian Exposition opened May 1st and was scheduled to run through October 30th, 1893.  Sited along Lake Michigan and inland along the Midway Plaisance between 59th and 60th streets, with the new school-house Gothic buildings of the University of Chicago to the north, the exposition featured palaces of fine arts, manufactures, machinery, agriculture, horticulture, transportation, electricity, and liberal arts with exhibits from every country, all over the world, and, national and state, pavilions throughout the grounds.

     The Wisconsin building situated between the Indiana and Ohio buildings, faced eastward and fronted on an irregularly shaped pond before the Gallery of Fine Arts at the north end of the exposition grounds.  It was built of pressed brick and brown sandstone, of two full stories raised above ground, and another in the attic under a high pitched roof.  Dunce capped round turrets rose on either side of a central dormer with gabled pediment above a two story promenade and balconied frontispiece above the firs floor verandah.  Bay windows on either side were capped in the attic story with high peaked windowed dormers.   Flanked by massive brownstone pillars at north and south corners, a broad verandah spread across the facade of the building.  Wide steps, between brownstone columns supporting a central pediment with the great seal of Wisconsin in relief, invited the public to come up and sit at ease on a gallery of rattan sofas, loveseats and chairs.

     The main reception rooms were finished in polished woods from the forests of Wisconsin: oak, cherry, bird's eye maple, elm, butternut and birch.  A pair of statues stood sentinel in the main lobby.  Helen Farnsworth mear's "Genius of Wisconsin", a flag clad female figure whoe left arm encircles the neck of "Old Abe", the famed Civil War eagle, with wings spread protectively over her, stood on the north side of the lobby.  On the south side, Jean Pond Miner's "Forward", another female figure draped in Greek fashion, lifts her right arm heavenward and holds in her left hand a sailing vessel with sails unfurled.  Between them rose a stairway of carved white oak to other rooms on the second floor.  Also in the lobby were the Rock County contributions to the fair, a Wisconsin tobacco plant in a Pauline Pottery jardiniere and the terra-cotta bust of President Cleveland from the American Art Clay Works.

     Nine days after the opening of the great fair, May 10, 1893, Oscar Jacobus lay dead, apparently from stomach cancer and an unsuccessful operation.  Brief funeral services were held at "The Bogert" on the 12th and the remains, escorted by the Knights of Pythias, carried by train to Chicago, where he was buried at Oakwood Cemetery.  Management of the Pauline Pottery had suddenly suffered a devastating blow by his death:  Jacobus was both secretary to the corporation and superintendent of the pottery works.

   Thorwald Samson's fiancee, Martine Nielson, came up to Edgerton on the 3rd of May from Chicago where she had been living and working for almost a year.  They were married, June 1st, at his brother Hans' Edgerton home on North Second street by John Spencer, Justice of the Peace.

    Around this time, Wilder Austin Pickard, purchased some undecorated porcelain, china blanks, and arranged with Mae Johnson, an artist and decorator, to have them hand-painted and decorated by her.  Johnson was twenty-four, had studied at the Chicago Art Institute and the Layton School at Milwaukee, as well as with Pauline Jacobus, and worked as a "decorator" in the Pauline Pottery.

1. Edgerton's History in Clay by Maurice Montgomery

1. Edgerton's History in Clay by Maurice Montgomery

          Official Website of the City of Edgerton, 12 Albion St, Edgerton, Wisconsin 53534 (608) 884-3341 Rock & Dane County