Red Wing Art Pottery vases with hand-painted highlights.
As Stoneware production waned, Redwing began to diversify their product lines and manufacturing dinnerware was one of the directions they pursued. Gypsy Trail circa 1935 was Red Wing’s first official dinnerware line and there were four patterns in bright festive colors of orange, yellow, turquoise and deep blue. This was not only Redwing’s answer to the popular Fiesta dinnerware but a response to the colorful dinnerware being produced by California potteries in the early thirties.
In 1940 Red Wing hired Charles Murphy to set up the production of hand-decorated dinnerware. Murphy introduced a new and more efficient policy of creating several lines of dinnerware using the same molds – much the same way automobile manufacturers use the same platform for different car models. The first shape to premiere was Provincial which had four lines named after French provinces: Orleans, Normandy, Brittany, and Ardennes.
Red Wing Dinnerware lines had glazes applied by hand via an assembly line structure. In the photo above, women using artist brushes applied individual strokes to light stencil markings on a piece of dinnerware. The piece was then sent down the line to the next decorator who would apply a different stroke. The more strokes a pattern had the higher Red Wing’s production costs.
By 1952 all but 15 percent of Red Wing’s output was dinnerware and some of the company’s most popular patterns would be manufactured during this period. In 1953 Red Wing produced the Casual shape from which would spring the company’s most popular pattern Bob White, which was produced until the factory closed in 1967. In 1956 a Playboy magazine centerfold model was shown holding a Bob White coffee cup in bed, with other serving pieces sitting on a tray. Some believe that the Playboy spread was the reason for Bob White’s long-term popularity but it probably had a lot more to do with simply liking the pattern than the magazine.
Also in 1956 another new shape was introduced called Futura. One of the patterns developed for the Futura line was, which was also designed by Charles Murphy. This very colorful pattern with its watermelon and fruits has the most brush strokes of any pattern made by Red Wing. Taking advantage of the cowboy craze of the period, Red Wing premiered Round Up in 1958, shown above. Many of the Chuck Wagon and Round Up pieces are alike with some ironic twists. For example, the Round Up pattern pictured a chuck wagon while the Chuck Wagon pattern did not.
Red Wing also made promotional items, the most well known of which is probably the pieces made for the Hamm’s Brewery. In 1955 Red Wing produced the famous Hamm’s Bear designed as a bank for a promotional piece or awards to employees. The first and rarest of the Bear banks are brown and white, while the majority are black and white. Still, a design flaw makes banks in good condition quite valuable. The Bear has holes in the bottom’s of his feet where the money was supposed to be emptied from. However, the holes were too small to actually get the money out; so many people broke off the legs of the Hamm’s Bear bank to retrieve their hard-earned cash. At Christmas in 1961 450 sets of dishes were made with the hand-painted, “Land of sky blue waters” motif. The set included plates, salad and cereal bowls, coffee mugs, a pitcher, and salt and pepper shakers.
In the early 1960s Red Wing divided its dinnerware lines between True China which was made from china clay rather than pottery clay and the Duo-Tone shape. Duo-Tone had the sleek look of the period with coffee cups, sugar and creamers, and other pieces that were shaped very much like cylinders. The colorful orange and pink Pepe shown on the upper right was introduced in 1962 and that pattern went on to have a special place in the movies. In the 1996 film Fargo, Pepe dinnerware is displayed prominently in the kitchen and dining room of the Minnesota housewife kidnapped in the film.
In all, over 100 dinnerware patterns were manufactured by Red Wing Potteries. Many patterns had an extensive array of serving pieces including casseroles, pitchers, salt and pepper shakers, teapots, deviled egg platters, French bread plates, cruet sets, cookie jars, coffee service, and other pieces. Some dinnerware patterns such as Bob White, Tampico, and Village Green even had water coolers as part of their line. The museum has collected pieces from every dinnerware pattern created by Red Wing along with sales catalogues that detail the depth of product lines and beauty of the various patterns. By 1967 families were looking for dinnerware that wouldn’t chip or break as easily, and dishes made from materials such as Malmac began to replace what are in many cases works of art.
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