Dryden Pottery
Master of the Glaze
by Pat Minton

    Often overlooked by the pottery world and dwarfed by the famous potteries of yesteryear, James Dryden has continued to produce some of the finest glazes ever seen on pottery.  Beginning in 1946, at Ellsworth, Kansas, Dryden Pottery is probably the only U.S. pottery company that never had a period of problem glazes, such as crazing, separating, etc.  Glazes comparable to those used on Fulper and Grueby can be found on his current pottery in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
    After attending the University of Illinois and the University of Kansas, James Dryden developed a spectacular glaze using volcanic ash, which led him to become the first to successfully use two different glazes at the same time.
    James Dryden and his brother-in-law, Joe Jezek, built an inventory of 6,000+ molds in the early days of Dryden Pottery, many of which he still uses today to exhibit his glazes.
    Quite a celebrated pottery in Kansas, Dryden made beautiful ware to commemorate countless celebrations, the state fair, etc., and tourist items.

    The Kansas clay was buff colored, while the pottery made in Arkansas has a white clay that is imported from Tennessee.  Dryden pottery was signed by hand in Kansas (1946-1956) with the shape number also scratched into the clay.  Hand-thrown pieces are still marked with a Dryden signature and a `9 and another number, such as a 2 - which would mean the piece was produced in 1992.  The molded pottery has a raised Dryden mold mark.

Van Briggle Connection
    From 1954 to 1956, Dryden made pottery for the Van Briggle Pottery in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  These are signed Anna Van Briggle and usually have a drip glaze over a solid glaze.  The contract between Dryden and Van Briggle called for the order to be produced at the Kansas location and the finished product to be delivered to Colorado Springs.  Dryden made the molds, did the glazing and firing at the Ellsworth, Kansas factory.
    It is uncertain if the Van Briggle Pottery produced similar wares with these glazes after this time, because 1956 saw the move of Dryden Pottery from Kansas to Arkansas.  Joe Jezek did not accompany James Dryden to Arkansas, but moved to Colorado Springs and went to work for Van Briggle.  There he remained until his retirement.

Family Business
His son, James Kimberly Dryden, joined the business as an excellent potter, developing hundreds of hand-thrown styles, which were covered with beautiful glazes.  Today, Kim’s three sons join the two elder Dryden potters and are gifted artisans as well.  Walking through the pottery showroom exhibiting hundreds of pieces of hand-thrown and handcrafted pottery done by all five of the Dryden men is a phenomenal experience for a pottery lover.  Learning the craft well as small children from their father and grandfather, Zack – 21, Cheyenne - 19, and Arrow – 16 are experienced, and excellent potters well beyond their years.  The possibilities are limitless now for Dryden Pottery because of the talent represented there.
    Despite selling pottery to the thousands of tourists who come to Hot Springs, Dryden Pottery has practically remained in obscurity due to its distance from the locations of the famous potteries and limited output.  Had Dryden been located in central Ohio, its glazes would have made it one of the more prestigious potteries today.  However, pottery collectors are becoming aware of the quality of Dryden pottery glazes, which have been consistent since its inception in 1946.  Dryden continues experimenting and testing several glazes every day.  These will be exhibited on the excellent work being produced at the factory.  The younger Drydens are also doing “slab work” with clay, and still use the ram-press or slab roller.  Dryden Pottery currently produces about 100 pieces per day.
    All of the Drydens are a wealth of ingenuity and creativity, with an excellent example being the face jugs.  The charmingly grotesque heads produced at Dryden will rival those of Gordy (Georgia) or those being made in North Carolina – with the additional bonus of some being designed on equally weird bodies.  They are just wonderful!!  And the best touch being the fabulous glazes carefully chosen for these pieces.

Life and Times
A. James Dryden, Jr. was born September 15, 1917 in a small south Kansas community of Englewood.  The family later moved to Ellsworth where outcroppings of clay were used in  the late 1800s for brick.  Viewed as an excellent source of kaolin and fire clay – possibly surpassing the St. Louis fire brick clay – read and yellow marls, blue, cream and white kaolin were within two miles of Kanopolis.  Acme Brick Company has been a mainstay of the are for most of this century with ample clay still existing in nearby hills.
    As a young boy, Dryden exhibited artistic and creative skills.  As the owner of the fledgling Dryden Pottery in 1946, “Jimmy” Dryden’s first pottery output was displayed for sale in his father’s Ellsworth, Kansas store.  While unpacking his first batch of pottery, a sale was made without even posting prices or advertising – a pair of salt and pepper shakers shaped like miniature whiskey jugs.
    He met Helen Maloney of Kanopolis, Kansas, who shared his talents for decorating and became a lifelong partner and supporter of the pottery.  James Dryden and Helen were married in 1942.
    After an extended wartime service in the Pacific, 1942-46, he returned to the University of Kansas on a GI Bill of Rights and began studying ceramics under Professor J. Sheldon Carey.  Carey was developing volcanic ash to use with pottery.  Volcanic ash was previously being used only as a sweeping and cleaning compound.  Dryden enthusiastically joined in trying the ash on pottery.  This new process combined with color in liquid glaze form for spraying, brushing, or dipping the pottery.

The Beginning
July 1946 saw the beginning of Dryden Pottery in a 60x60 Quonset hut in Ellsworth, Kansas.  The first piece of Dryden Pottery was a brown glazed, maple leaf shaped tray, fired in an electric kiln.  He soon switched to gas kilns for his glazes.  Dryden explains that colors of the glazes vary with the degree of heat used, which change color in the firing process.  Dryden wanted to produce a harder and thinner pottery, but the temperature increase by 200 degrees melted the pottery.  He found that adding a tempering compound gave him a thinner pottery with a higher gloss.
    Dryden noted that each piece of art was handled 50 times covering its preparation period of 48 hours.  He never tired of sharing his pottery with school children and encouraging their artistic talent.  He also utilized designs and ideas brought to him, often working with a customer to achieve a product for a desired purpose.  Those wanting personalization were treated to names, places, etc., etched into the clay with a dental tool.
    In early 1947, a statewide Topeka newspaper featured an article on Dryden Pottery, noting the pottery used 5,000 pounds of clay per month.  The clay was so pure it required no further preparation.  However, many months were required for perfecting the glaze, which consisted of white volcanic ash of a talcum powder consistency, colemanite, water, and coloring agents.  The high quality of the glaze permitted firing the clay with only one application.
    1954 marked another advance in glaze making as Dryden placed two colors on one piece and used one firing.
    Immediately, large orders for 2,000 or more pieces per week poured in from over the state wherever his pottery was seen.  Compliments abounded for the workmanship and beauty of Dryden Pottery.  The tremendous success of Dryden Pottery eventually overshadowed all of the other Kansas potteries, who went out of business one by one.

The Move
Despite a healthy success in Kansas, Dryden Pottery became a victim of progress.  The new interstate through Kansas bypassed Ellsworth and the tourist trade dried up.  Noting the lively tourist trade in Hot Springs, Arkansas and the availability of clay and clay workers, James Dryden moved to Arkansas and established his pottery 3 blocks west of Central Avenue (Bathhouse Row) at 343 Whittington Avenue.

Mailing address:                Box 603, Hot Springs, AR 71902
Phone number:                (501) 623-4201

    If you haven’t been to Hot Springs to visit Dryden lately, then plan a trip immediately!  You will enjoy a true exhilaration while touring the showroom resplendent with exciting creations.  Pottery lovers everywhere are becoming more aware of its beauty and collectability.