Prairie School Terra Cotta
In 1881, lawyer William Day Gates founded the American Terra Cotta Tile and Ceramic Company in Terra Cotta, Illinois, close to Crystal Lake, about 50 miles northwest of Chicago. In addition to producing the first architectural terra cotta in America, especially for Prairie School building projects, Gates also developed various clays and glazes for art pottery.
Arts and Crafts Pottery
Teco, which is a contraction of ‘Terra Cotta,’ soon became synonymous with excellence in decorative design. Gates was originally inspired by the ideas of the Arts and Crafts movement that began in Britain in the late 19th century. Reacting against increasing mechanization, leaders of the movement such as John Ruskin and William Morris championed handcrafted production using the highest quality materials. In addition to making art pottery himself, Gates employed several skilled designers (Fritz Albert, Harald Hals, W.B. Mundie, Fernand Moreau et al) to create innovative forms. Although Teco pottery comes in a range of colors, the matte green glaze is the most distinctive and prized of all.
Teco’s Lasting Influence
Gates eventually turned over control of the Terra Cotta Company to his son Major. During the Great Depression, there was little demand for architectural terra cotta and Teco pottery. In 1934, George A. Berry, Jr. bought the company to focus solely on generating construction materials. William Gates died the following year, but Prairie School terra cotta and Arts and Crafts pottery continue to capture the imagination of ceramic enthusiasts. Pottery makers and collectors alike still cherish Teco for its vibrant colors, rich glazes, and purity of both sculptural and organic design.Contact a Specialist View all Artists/Makers