A Brief History of Arkansas Art Pottery

Summarized from an article in the newsletter for The National Society of Arkansas Pottery Collectors, Vol. 1, Number 1, Spring/Summer 1996 by David E. Gifford

Akansas Art Pottery production began in Hot Springs in 1905 with the Mountain Valley Pottery Company. By 1906, the name was changed to the Ouachita Pottery Company and employed former Rookwood artisan, Arthur Dovey. Artistic wares were made in brown, crushed strawberry, rose, tan, and all of the rich shades of green. The most common finish was a matte green similar to Rookwood's green "conventional matte glaze". A Hot Springs artist, Miss Sara Elizabeth (Bettie) Smith, decorated wares for the company utilizing "bas relief" featuring animals and plants. In 1907 the company exhibited at the state fair as the Hot Springs Pottery Company. In July 1908 the company incorporated as the Hot Springs Clay Products Company. The company continued to appear in telephone books and city directories until 1912, but little else is known.

Arthur Dovey went to Missouri in 1908, but returned to Benton, Arkansas to assist Charles Hyten at the soon to be named Nilaok Pottery Company. Swirl production began in January 1910. In 1911 Niloak Pottery Company was incorporated. In May 1913, Niloak Pottery received national recognition with the cover and lead story in The Clay-Worker. Labelled "Mission Art Pottery", Niloak became connected to the American Arts & Crafts movement. At Christmas of 1931 Hyten introduced Hywood Art Pottery. Hywood Art Pottery, mostly a handthrown ware, was a less expensive alternative to swirl production. Developed by a former Weller employee, Stoin M. Stoin, the line included drip glazes, stipple effects and solid colors. Arriving in 1932, Howard Lewis replacing Stoin developed entirely new glazes for techniques like overspray and mottling effects as well as solid finishes. Later in 1932 Hyten hired Rudy Ganz, a German sculptor. Ganz designed and made Niloak's first molds. Industrial castware was Niloak's primary production until the late 1940's. Swirl production continued on a very limited basis until the company's conversion into Winburn Tile in 1947.

In 1926 the Camden Art Tile and Pottery Company, later known as Camark, was organized by Samuel J. (Jack) Carnes. John Lessell (pronounced La-sell) was scheduled to head the art department. Camark's first art wares were made in Ohio by Lessell using Arkansas clays to test their suitability for art pottery manufacture. Utilizing techniques he developed at Owen China Company, J.B. Owen Pottery, and Weller, John Lessell produced a variation of almost every line he had ever created elsewhere with Camark clay and shapes and signed them "Lessell". Despite Lessell's death in December 1926, Carnes proceeded with the plans for the Camden plant hiring Mrs. Lessell and her daughter, Billie, to head its art department. Also hired were Stephen J. Sebaugh, who had worked with Lessell at J.B. Owens and Weller, and Sebaugh's two sons. In spring of 1927, the plant in Camden was complete and production started on the LeCamark line. In December 1927 Camark introduced its Modernistic line by Alfred P. Tetzschner as "the first plant to commercialize the futuristic pattern". Roseville's Futura line was not introduced until 1928. Camark also produced its on versions of Weller's frosted matt, Cloudburst, and Barcelona. It also produced pottery similar to Muncie, especially the drip and mottle techniques. After 1930, artistic wares by Camark gradually decreased as it began to concentrate on castware production with pastel colors until it closed in the 1960's.