Art Review


The beautiful and impressive One Hundred Years of Van Briggle Pottery, at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum (215 South Tejon Street, Colorado Springs, 1-719-385-5990), has a somewhat misleading title; it might have been better to call it One Hundred Van Briggle Pots. That's because the exhibit does not fully survey its target dates -- 1901 to 2001 -- but mostly includes Van Briggles dating from the first decade of the last century. And that's good, because that's when the finest examples were made.

The show, which was organized by the Pioneers Museum, is a traveling exhibit that's back home after a national tour. Many of the pieces are from the museum's collection of 700 Van Briggles.

The fact that the museum has such a large collection is not surprising, because the internationally renowned art pottery was founded in Colorado Springs in 1901 by Artus and Ann Van Briggle, a pair of national-class art potters from Ohio, then the center of American ceramics. Today, the pieces made during the golden age at Van Briggle Pottery are regarded as among the most accomplished ceramics works of that time.

Colorado Springs may strike some as a strange place for a Paris-trained artist and his Cincinnati-trained wife to wind up, but Artus had tuberculosis and had come to the Springs seeking a cure at one of the region's sanatoriums. It was not to be, however, and he died of the ailment in 1904. Ann continued to work until 1913, when she lost the company to bankruptcy. The two Van Briggles had very distinct styles, Artus working within the art-nouveau movement and Ann working more in line with the arts-and-crafts style. Both were clearly geniuses.

Along with great vases, the exhibit offers some curiosities, such as the death mask Ann made of Artus immediately after he died. Less morbid but also unusual is a tile-clad fireplace (seen above). Unfortunately, the show closes this Saturday, but if you can't get down to the Springs by then, you can still view the 200 pieces of Van Briggle on permanent display at the Pioneers Museum. The curators who organized One Hundred Years didn't allow the best pieces from the museum's collection to travel, and they've been safely ensconced in their showcases all along.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia