ABOVE: Ephraim Faience Pottery has many collections, with pieces being retired and added all the time.All photos by William Wright
Insight into today’s guild: Kevin Hicks and company at Ephraim Faience pottery studios, Wisconsin.
He may have a degree in business and art, but Kevin Hicks grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, and jokes that he “always liked to play in the mud.” He did his time at a commercial pottery, but by 1996 had tired of mass-producing coffee mugs. So he opened his own pottery and embraced the philosophy of the Arts & Crafts movement, with its emphasis on hand craftsmanship, individual creativity, and artistic expression. Influenced by early 20-century potteries such as Grueby and Rookwood, Kevin and his partners nonetheless developed a style of their own, one strongly rooted in nature. Early on, ginkgo leaves and cattails, dragonflies and koi, bullfrogs and storks adorned pots and vases, rendered in colors that reflect the seasons and outdoors: maple-‘Leaf Green’, quiet brown and gray ‘Prairie Grass’, and ‘Indigo’, the deep color of the sky an hour after sunset.
Now Ephraim Faience Pottery has a staff of eleven that includes potters and sculptors, glazers and designers, as well as a talented retail and marketing department. The pottery uses earthenware and stoneware clays from local Midwestern sources to make everything from cabinet vases and candlesticks to lanterns and umbrella stands. In true A&C spirit, everything is done by hand. First a pot is thrown and sculpted on the wheel, then each wet piece (“green ware”) is allowed to dry for three to ten days depending on size. Then the piece undergoes bisque firing, rendering it hard and ready for decoration. The decorator applies hand-mixed glazes, and it is fired once again: some pieces are glazed twice, requiring an additional firing. The entire process takes three to four weeks and produces unique pieces of art.
Last year the pottery moved from a farm down the road from Kevin’s boyhood home into a restored 1890s brick building in nearby Lake Mills, in the countryside between Madison and Milwaukee. Ephraim Faience Pottery is sold in shops and museums across the country and has attracted quite a following. (A collectors’ convention meets annually.)