Still Out There, Still Cheap

No one knows how many pots Frans or Marguerite Wildenhain threw. Or, for that matter, probably most studio potters. It’s unlikely Frans or Marguerite knew, either; for all but the most obsessive ceramist, this kind of record keeping doesn’t occur.

But, among working ceramists, as opposed to weekend hobbyists, they’re making art by potting daily.

Every day, they throw five, or ten, or 50. Five days a week. Maybe more.

Excluding all the work produced while students, and considering a professional working life of, say, 30, 35 or maybe 40 years, the numbers add up.

As U.S. Congressman and later Senator Everett Dirksen reportedly said about the timeless subject of federal budget-busting, “A billion [dollars] here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.” So, too, with pots.

Otto Hagel’s photographs of Marguerite and her work suggest a prolific potter. In a number of his black and white images, she’s surrounded by her work.

Too, Frans was known to “crank it out.”

After all, he had to maintain inventory at Shop One, where he was one of the four innovators of the 1950s retail craft establishment in Rochester, NY.

Too, with a full, working studio that doubled as a showroom at his Bushnell’s Basin (NY) home, he needed to maintain stock for visiting customers.

Frans’s studio, designed by the late Rochester architect Bart Valvano, accommodated plenty of natural light with nearly floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a pond.

His attached home, separately and identically described to me by four people as a “converted chicken coop,” also functioned as a sales room.

And Lili, Frans’s third wife, hosted “garage” sales there too, after his passing in 1980.

I bought four Frans pots from Lili there, on just such an occasion.

At the end of last month, one Frans and four Marguerite Wildenhain pieces went to auction at Rago’s in Lambertville, NJ.

The 12-inch unsigned Frans piece passed. A group of three Marguerite vessels sold for $875 (including the “juice”); a single vase by Marguerite, from her days in Putten, Holland (circa 1930s) brought $563.

Compare those prices to even an “entry-level” piece by Grueby. Seems cheap!

But maybe that comparison, striking as it may be, is an unfair one: comparing studio potters to a factory manufacturer.

In which case, compare the Wildenhains’ prices to those generated by upstate (Alfred) New Yorkers Val Cushing or Robert Turner or, with stronger still prices, such couples as Otto and Viveka Heino or Edwin and Mary Scheier.

Perhaps staying married yields stronger financial returns?

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