1. Edgerton's History in Clay by Maurice Montgomery
Pauline Jacobus, born December 13, 1840, was forty years old
in January 1881, married for nineteen years to Oscar Jacobus, and
the mother of two childre, Allen Dow and Jennifer Pauline, when
she saw an exhibit of Sarah Bernhardt's paintings and sculptures
at O'Briens Art Gallery in Chicago. Bernhardt, hailed as the
greatest actress of the day, was known world-wide for the
emotionalism and pathos of her languishing death-scenes on
stage. Although Bernhardt's art-work had been awarded as
"honorable mention" at a number of Paris exhibitions in the 1870s,
it was characterized as "...old fashioned tripe..." by no less an
authority that Auguste Rodin, whose own art works were then
being critized as "...immoral modernism.." The press took up the
attack against Bernhardt's artistry and exhibits. In her defense,
Emile Zola the, soon-to-be-great, French author, and her
sometime friend, wrote that "...she is reproached for not having
stuck straight to dramatic art...to have taken up sculpture, painting...she is not denied the right to scuplt. She is simply denied the right to exhibit... Le a law be passed immediately to prevent the cumulation of talent.
Although Pauline Jacobus was a skilled decorator and painter of china, the Bernhardt exhibit of modeled art-works thrilled her. Inspired, she wanted to try modeling also, perhaps even to make pottery. Coincidentally, just two years before, Miss Louise McLaughlin, of Cincinnati, Ohio, had organized "The Potters Club", probably the first of its kind in the United States, to make, fire and decorate pottery. Maria Longworth, a member of the "Club" withdrew the next year, however, to start up her own pottery, which she named "Rookwood" after the Longworth family home in Cincinnati. The following year, 1881, Longworth opened the Rookwood School to teach techniques of pottery making and decorating in under, and over, glaze painting, modeling and limoges, a type of enameling work. Tuition was $3.00 per week, with private lessons charged at $1.00 per hour, payable in advance.
The Jacobuses, probably both Oscar and Pauline, began experimenting in the making of pottery, and Pauline enrolled in the new Rookwood School to further her developing skills. While studying there, she received a lettery from her husband, who had stayed behind in Chicago. He wrote "...that a group of women had organized the Chicago Pottery Club and were planning to open an art pottery in Chicago."
Hurrying home, Pauline and Oscar opened a small pottery in a rented old house at number 71, 36th street. The year was 1882. Pauline had brought with her John Sargent, Rookwood's klin builder, who constructed a small kiln for the Jacobus' pottery shop. Then, with the help of Laura Fry, an instructor at the Rookwood School, Pauline made, decorated, fired and exhibited the first art-pottery to be wholly made in Chicago.
Using clay imported from Ohio, the Jacobus' pottery continued to make bowls, vases, and other artware forms which were then decorated in blues, greens and yellows. Some pieces of the art pottery were decorated with incised lines, and gilded designs. Many of these early works were incised in flowing script, or later, in block letters, "Pauline Pottery", a name given the artware by her husband, Oscar. Immediately successful, the art pottery was soon being sold through Tiffany's in New York, Kimball's in Boston and Marshall Field's in Chicago. So great was the demand for the new ware, that a new and larger pottery shop, at 57 Walsh Street in Chicago, was in business by 1886.
With such great success, increasing sales demanded not only larger and more adequate quarters for the pottery, but also a closer supply of raw materials than clays imported from Ohio. Aware of the clay beds at Edgerton, Jacobus had samples of the clays sent to him. Experimenting with these, he determined the Edgerton clays were suitable for pottery making, and came up to Edgerton over the weekend of November 19-20, 1887. He said that "...The pottery at Chicago is unable to keep up with
i its orders and the firm are looking for a location to put in a branch establishment..." In an open meeting with Edgerton people, business men, tobacco growers, dealers and sales representatives, Jacobus exhibited "...a few examples of the work now being turned out in Chicago..." There were "...several patterns of porous cups used in electric batteries, fancy decorated ware, decorated caustic tile used for mantles..." said the Wisconsin Tobacco Reporter. And, the reporter continued "...The fact that decorated fancy articles such as vases, tiles, etc., could be produced from our clay, proved a revelation to our citizens who had not awakened to the possibilities of our clay beds."
Jacobus proposed that a committee from Edgerton visit Chicago, view the pottery operation, and decide whether to form a stock-company to encourage and help the pottery move to Edgerton. By February 2, 1888, when the Pauline Pottery shareholders, met, $20,000 had been raised by selling 400 $50 shares over a two week period. The Pauline Pottery would be moving to Edgerton and officers of the corporation were elected, articles of association and by-laws approved. Jacobus, himself, was elected secretary of the corporation and appointed superintendent of the pottery works. The pottery works were to be located in the newly purchased Hopkins Warehouse, a three story, board and batten building, on Lawton Street, which had sufficient land at the side for the construction of six kilns, and was conveniently adjacent to the railroad lines for ease in shipping out the finished utilitarian and art-work products. On May 11,1888, the Wisconsin Tobacco Reporter noted that the Pauline Pottery started up this week, "...an industry entirely new to our people..." "...The Pottery will run mainly on porous cups for electric batteries. Contracts have been secured with two large electric supply depots, one of them being the Western branch of the Bell Telephone Co. ... These two concerns will doubtless use from 5,000 to 8,000 cups per week. ... The Pottery will turn out a line of fancy decorated ware, such as vases, rose jars, tea pots, etc., also hand decorated encaustic tile for mantles, and a variety of other fancy wares."
The Jacobuses also moved to Edgerton. Settling first on Washington Street, they later purchased a large Edgerton-cream-brick farm home at the northerly limits of the city, just over the Rock/Dane line in Dane County. They calle it "The Bogert" after Pauline's family. To it, the locals said, Pauline brought her Chicago ways. "An aristocratic old lady, she had her "Thursdays at Home", and those who came to call found her a charming but autocratic hostess. Her stern manner frightened some..." At least one young man, many years later, unnerved by her stern manner responding to his know on the door, had difficulty speaking, stammered and blurted out that her house was on fire, and retreated across the porch and down the steps.
John Sargent, who had built the kiln in Chicago, was hired to build the kilns in Edgerton. A work force of twenty men and thirteen women was hired. The work was distributed over three floors in the Lawton Street structure, with the battery cup operation occupying the lower two floors (washing and mixing of the clay on the first level, then up to the second level for moulding and casting), while all art-work was produced on the third floor. Oscar Jacobus supervised battery cup production, and Pauline directed the third floor art-studio. Outside the building, on the west side, were three large cone-shaped-kilns for firing the battery cups, and on the east side was a square-kiln for firing art-pottery from the studio.
The art-work decoration was done by hand underglaze. Some thought it was similar to Majolica from its soft, diffused colors, but the resemblance is only superficial. Most of the ware was twice fired: first burned to the bisque stage, then, decorated, washed with glaze, and fired a second time. The final glaze is almost always "crazed", or checked, and the pottery is easily chipped, showing a chalky base beneath the glaze. The pre-fired ware was made from Edgerton clays, somewhat yellow in color, which turned white when burned. A few pieces, however, are found to be red-clay based, another clay from the near Edgerton area, possibly Fulton, as many of the later Samson pieces are made from a red-clay base.
In less than a year's time, another employee was added to the staff. Wilder Austin Pickard was 32 years old, a native of Wisconsin, born and raised near Sun Prairie. The youngest of three children, Wilder's older sister had received a university education, but the great depression of 1873 destroyed and home he had of college and university schooling, when his father lost everything. By 1881, he was working as a retail sales clerk in Chicago, and then as a book salesman for the Hubbard Brothers Publishing Company. Later, as a sales representative for fine cut-and art-glass, he saw an exhibit of Pauline Pottery at marshall Fields's in Chicago and more inquiries about the company. Soon hired, he was "...to sell the decorated ware manufacturered by the pottery in the states of Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesots..." Pickard's employment also initiated a chang in the pottery's work program. "...Heretofore the pottery has manufactured only upon orders, but now propose to canvass the larger cities with a traveling agent...", and presumably fill and ship orders taken by their agent from an on-shelf supply of priorly made art-works. So well did Pickard sell for the pottery that the Wisconsin Tobacco Reporter noted November 20, 1891 that "---W.A. Pickard, the salesman for the Pauline Pottery, has been in town for a few days this week to replenish his stock of samples. Mr. Pickard has sold more goods for the pottery this season than all other years put together."