R. Guy Cowan
(1884-1957), potter/designer and creator of the famous line of now coveted ceramic pieces that bears his name. Founded in Lakewood in 1912, the Cowan Pottery Studio produced both artistic and commercial work in a variety of styles influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement, Art Deco, Chinese ceramics, and modern sculpture: some of the most interesting and creative shapes, glazes and ceramic sculpture pieces that have ever been made in the ceramic art industry. By the late twenties, many well-known (most Cleveland) artists were affiliated with the studio, including Wayland Gregory, Viktor Schreckengost, Thelma Frazier Winter, Margaret Postgate, Alexander Blazys and 20 others. Through these artists and their works, American ceramic art gained the respect and recognition it deserved from the art world. The studio showed itself to be ahead of its time with the modern ceramic sculptures and wide array of Art Deco pieces it created for its avant-garde clientele.
Photo Courtesy of Rocky River Public Library and the Cowan Pottery Museum
During Cowan Pottery’s relatively short life span (1912–1931), it is documented that he and his staff produced over 850 different shapes and used over 160 different glazes to provide his clientele with a vast array of decorative art choices. The shapes and designs created vary from casual to formal and cover numerous styles from Oriental to Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts, Art Deco and back to Victorian. The various glazes used span from simple pastels to dark vivid gloss, semi-gloss and matte finishes to matrix glazes which are a combination of two to three or more colors. The ceramic sculpture pieces were made with artistic flare in designs that range from biblical to theatrical to mystical. Most of these pieces were produced in the last few years of the studio’s operation by R. Guy Cowan himself, as well as his staff of gifted young artists. (In 1920 the studio moved to Rocky River, where it operated until 1931, when the financial stress of the Great Depression resulted in its bankruptcy.) Many of these artists went on to become very successful on their own, after the Cowan Pottery Studio closed.
In the studio’s early years Cowan did most of the designing himself, producing a variety of art pottery and ceramic tiles. In 1917, R. G. Cowan was presented with the first of many career awards for pottery in the International Show at the Art Institute of Chicago.
In the mid-twenties, the studio managed to develop a full commercial line of pottery with artistic quality of the highest standard. Examples of this are the flower figurines created by R. G. Cowan in 1924-1925 that enjoyed tremendous popularity with the public. Console sets, flower bowls, comports, candlesticks, vases, lamps, candy and nut dishes were very successful. By 1928, Cowan Pottery had grown to a staff of 35 people and was producing 175,000 single pieces a year ranging from unlimited stock designs to limited editions of sculptured pieces. For examples, see https://www.cowanpottery.org/portfolio-grid/ceramic-sculpture/ and