Louise has called Red Wing Pottery the “Tupperware™ of the 19th Century” which is a most apt description. The pottery offered lines in mixing bowls, butter churns, casseroles, reamers, and dinnerware for the home, but also served an important need on the farm with the company manufacturing crocks, chicken feeders, water coolers, and thrashing jugs. Louise sat for a question and answer session on Red Wing and its place in American history.
When did you start collecting Red Wing?
I bought my first piece of Red Wing in 1971 and it sat it on my kitchen shelves for about 10 years.
I think when we really got into it was in the early 1980s when Bob Carlson’s (a friend of Jerry and Louise’s) uncle’s wife died and he had four houses full of Red Wing stoneware. He was from Dupree, South Dakota. Jerry bought $11,000 of stoneware thinking it would be a good investment. Once we got it, we fell in love with it and didn’t want to sell it and started collecting.
Why Red Wing Pottery?
Once we started learning about Red Wing Stoneware then we just really liked it and started buying more pieces, from people like Larry Peterson of Red Wing. He gave us a lot of guidance on what was good, how to judge it, what to look for, and we took off from there.
How did museum come into being?
We kept getting more and more pieces of Red Wing and our five children kept looking at us like we were spending their inheritance, so we had to come up with some sort of plan with what to do with it all. Our house was becoming overwhelmed with pottery, we had it in Jerry’s parent’s home, and we had at our vacation homes.
So in his infinite wisdom, Jerry said let’s put it into a museum so that everybody can see it, enjoy it, and know the history. And because Jerry had an insurance, business, and law background, he was able to put together a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation which became the Schleich Red Wing Pottery Museum.
The museum opened in October of 2001 and since then we’ve had visitors from all over the world. I’ve done tours for groups from Australia, England, Scotland, and all across the United States.
We thought it would be people interested in Red Wing that would want to come and see the museum and what we’ve found is that most people that come for tours don’t know much about Red Wing.
What is the primary mission of the museum?
Our Mission is to preserve the history of Red Wing pottery for future generations and share the story with the public.
How many pieces are in the museum?
Five-thousand pieces plus and as far as we know, there is nothing else like this. We attempt to have an example of everything that they made from 1877 to 1967.
What are your favorite pieces?
Probably the most outstanding piece that we have is the 70 gallon jug, because there were only three of them made and nobody knows what happened to the other two. That jug was manufactured as a promotional piece for the 1923 Minnesota State Fair.
I love the elephant ear crocks and churns which are transition pieces, but there are many art pottery pieces that I find attractive too. There are just so many of them I can’t give any specific examples.
I also like the Rum Rill double glazes, which I think are lovely. The bread boxes are really unique as is the birdbath. The bird bath was in the yard of one of the Red Wing Stoneware presidents.
Do you have any advice for collectors?
(Laughs) I’d say don’t do it! It just becomes too overwhelming. Actually, I would say concentrate on one area—that is advertising pieces, crocks, water coolers, dinnerware, or art pottery. But, don’t try and do it all. You lose focus and wind up with a lot of stuff.
We were fortunate in that Jerry had a plan in the form of the museum, but I still have far more than I know what to do with. And that’s another thing to consider—what happens to your collection when you die? You don’t want it to be a burden for your family.
What’s your greatest joy in having the museum?
When you have people come in and they really had no idea of how diverse Red Wing Pottery was or how many items they produced in their 90 year history. It really does feel good to share it was people because they seem very interested and grateful to learn about it.
Does your family collect Red Wing at all?
Two of my four children collect Red Wing.
What are you looking for in terms of Red Wing?
I’m looking for any unusual pieces for the museum we don’t have that would really add to the collection such as the Valley, NE churn. The writing was all in cursive making for a very unusual piece. Also it’s from Nebraska and it’s always fun to get advertising pieces from my home state. I’m always looking for that odd piece that no one knew existed.
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