rothwoman stoneware


Grabbing Victory out of the jaws of Defeat

When I got home, there was a ton of white clay sitting on the pallet rack. We only used red clays for the planters. Jerry didn’t use white for his sculptures either. I thought, something must be going on, and it was. One of the carts had been reconfigured to accept ware boards much closer together. The cart was filled with white bisque ware plates.

“I threw you some blanks.” Jerry said. “Decorate them and you’ll see what happens at the LA Show.” Time to pull out animal motifs from their storage portfolio. A whirlwind of activity followed. Fortunately we had a small test kiln. Trial and error, turn around times for firings, additional glaze tests, design decisions, all happening at once. By the end of two weeks a nice, but small selection was evident.

I went to the LA Gift Show with nothing but a bunch of plate samples. A reminder of my very first show at the Biltmore. The planters were there too, but not center stage. This time I had a good location at the LA Convention Center, and a following.

“Look at the new Rothwoman line,” buyers repeated to each other.

“I’d like to try some plates,” was the their overwhelming response.

“And I’ll take a few planters. There’s still a bit of demand.” They added.

Fellow Salespeople are sometimes generous with suggestions (mostly when their lines are not competing).

“Display your wares. Explain your wares. ASK FOR AN ORDER.”

Advise I have never forgotten.

Asking for an order rather than expecting an order was a challenge.

Fear of failure spurred me on.

As demand for the plates grew the planters were discontinued. Blank plates and bowls were made on the ram press, bisque fired then stored for future use. We did pour a few mugs in plaster casts, but only to satisfy special orders. Pressing was our preferred system. The decorated ware was hand dipped with clear over glaze. The envelope kiln had two stationary platforms and one insulated, enveloping part that moved. One platform could be unloaded, then reloaded while the other side was firing. We could really ramp up production, especially in the last quarter of the year when sales were strongest. Giftware is very geared to the Holidays.

These were rewarding years,

creative, fun and tons of work 

Rose offered me the gift of time to play.

Riding my new Missouri Fox Trotter, H.J. with Belle Starr became a late afternoon ritual.

Camacho dipped each piece by hand, then gently moved it over a wet sponge to clean the foot so it wouldn’t stick to the kiln shelf during firing.

The hand thrown samples from the LA Show would be okay for New York and Chicago, but we had no way to fill orders. Take a chance seemed the best option. Jerry hunted until he found a ram press with a deep enough throat so bowls could be added to the line. He designed and threw all the new shapes. They were sent to the Mould Shop for dies to be made. Plaster is poured into dies to form working moulds. I went back east with more confidence than when I had left Atlantic City. And determination to “Ask for Every Order.” The studio re-work bill loomed large.

Jerry’s mother, Rose volunteered to take over bookkeeping and shipping. By now these duties needed full time attention. She worked with me even after giving up driving by taking the bus an hour each way five days a week.

This is the belt and buckle I’m wearing in the upper photo. Mike Heinz made for me. With a couple extra holes it still fits. Craftspeople have an affinity for the work of others. They know the amount of creativity and skill entailed.

Planters were still taking up one tall rack of precious storage. I called the Pottery Barn in Laguna Beach. Kay, the buyer and Phyllis, the owner sold hundreds of Rothwoman ceramics over the years. Kay drove up in her Ranchero and we set about bargaining. A cup of tea followed the loading of a selection of ware. Numerous rounds like this, each group commanding a lower price, and the Ranchero was full. “Well, almost,” said Kay, “those last few can sit in the passenger seat.” That’s how the planters left our studio.

About two decades later, on one of my casual visits to the Pottery Barn, Kay opened a storage room door, ”Remember these?” she said, “We put a few out at a time, around the holidays. Don’t want to saturate the market. They’re still selling.”

See why buyers can be so endearing!