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Frederick Hurten Rhead

Frederick Hurten Rhead at work in his Arequipa Pottery studio in Fairfax, California. Photo courtesy of The Craftsman, XII, 1907

The Rhead Family of Potters

In 1880, Frederick Hurten Rhead was born into a multi-generational pottery family in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England. His father, Frederick Alfred Rhead, and siblings, Harry, Charlotte, and Dollie, each were in the business as well. After training in England, Rhead moved to the United States in 1902, settling in Ohio.

Early American Pottery Work

Following stints at Avon Faience and Weller Pottery, Rhead was named art director for Roseville Pottery in 1904 and oversaw the production of both art pottery and more functional items. In 1908, Rhead moved to Missouri to teach a pottery correspondence course at the People’s University. Funding for the program ran out in 1911, so Rhead opted to head west.

Rhead Teaches Women and Designs Pottery at the Arequipa Sanatorium

After the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, a tuberculosis epidemic descended on the city given the resulting dust and ash. Women contracted the illness at twice the rate of men because many worked indoors in close quarters. In September 1911, Dr. Philip King Brown opened the Arequipa Sanatorium — after a Peruvian town meaning ‘place of rest’ — in Marin County, across the bay to the north of San Francisco, to help women heal from tuberculosis while receiving training in pottery making. Dr. Brown hired Rhead to direct what would become known as the Arequipa Pottery, where female patients were not required to participate, but, if they wished to, there were limits on how long they could work per day.

Arequipa Pottery Becomes Marketable

Inspired by Arts & Crafts ideals, Dr. Brown and Rhead hoped that creating high-quality, handmade ceramics in a peaceful, natural setting would prove restorative and yield objects of lasting artistic value. The women were all compensated for their labor or in some cases they had the cost of their stay at Arequipa defrayed. Much of Rhead’s work involved obtaining local clay and teaching patients basic pottery techniques. By the fall of 1912, the women under Rhead’s tutelage were producing pottery that dealers in the Bay Area and along the West Coast found well executed and attractive. Early in 1913, Rhead’s and Dr. Brown’s visions for Arequipa Pottery diverged: Dr. Brown wanted the female patients to make all wares, but Rhead expanded the operation and brought in professional potters.

Later Pottery Experience and Legacy

In May 1913, Rhead resigned and less than two months later another esteemed potter from Staffordshire, Albert Solon, became the new director. Rhead then established his own pottery studio in Santa Barbara, which operated until 1917. In later years, Rhead worked for American Encaustic Tiling Company in Ohio and Homer Laughlin China Company in West Virginia; for Homer Laughlin, Rhead created an Art Deco line of dinnerware in bold primary colors called Fiesta, which was immediately popular upon its release in 1936. Rhead died from cancer in New York City in 1942, but his legacy lives on as one of the most accomplished Arts & Crafts pottery designers and examples of his work are held in notable institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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Frederick Hurten Rhead
Frederick Hurten Rhead
Frederick Hurten Rhead
Frederick Hurten Rhead
Frederick Hurten Rhead
Frederick Hurten Rhead
Frederick Hurten Rhead
Frederick Hurten Rhead