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The Saturday Evening Girls (SEG) Club and the Paul Revere Pottery

The Saturday Evening Girls (SEG) Club and the Paul Revere Pottery – The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles – January 2006

Excerpted from the book “[amazon_link id=”0764322273″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Saturday Evening Girls: Paul Revere Pottery[/amazon_link]”

by Meg Chalmers & Judy Young

The Saturday Evening Girls (SEG) Club and the Paul Revere Pottery, which grew out of it, were part of a social and cultural endeavor that began in the Boston Public Library in the 1890s. They were the result of the convergence of three major movements influencing Boston at the time: the growth of the Arts and Crafts Movement, the evolving role of women and Women’s Movement, and the Settlement House Movement. Together they created an environment that was ripe for the start of the pottery. As David Rago says in [amazon_link id=”B008A5VS4O” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]American Art Pottery[/amazon_link]: “The story of the Saturday Evening Girls…says as much about the philosophical and spiritual aspirations of the Arts and Crafts movement as it does about the work these ideals engendered…The seeds of the SEG Pottery fell on fertile soil.”

An understanding of these movements will help the reader appreciate the context of this pottery and begin to get a sense of who these women were and the forces that helped shape their lives.

The Arts and Crafts Movement spread to the U.S. in the late 1800s. It was, in part, a reaction to industrialization and the diminishing importance of the individual craftsperson. The western world was moving from a time when nearly everything used at home or work was created by an individual to a time when factories mass-produced items.

Followers of the Arts and Crafts Movement believed that honest craftsmanship and simple beauty were the most important aspects of life, and that beauty should be a part of daily life. They rekindled an interest in nature and the earth. Artful items with natural motifs were central to the Arts and Crafts Movement.

The role of women changed dramatically in the 1800s. Many families moved out of agricultural areas and into urban settings. Women often had to enter the workforce and became active in many political and social movements. With the growth of urban areas and schools, education became more available to girls and women. A few were able to advance in schools and take active roles in the fields of education and health. All these forces impacted on women’s roles in society and played a part in the development of the pottery.

Pottery decoration was done primarily by women artists. Maria Longworth Nichols started Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati, Ohio. A pottery was started at Newcomb College, the women’s division of Tulane University. Although Newcomb was a college setting and different than the program from the Saturday Evening Girls, both environments enabled women artists to develop expertise in decorating one-of-a-kind pieces of pottery.

The Saturday Evening Girls Club was started as the culmination of the belief in the need to find a way to improve the lives of girls and women. The founders were Edith Brown, Edith Guerrier and their benefactor, Helen Storrow. This passion was fueled by the movement to help women find a stronger voice in the development of the country. The pottery objects they subsequently produced incorporated many of the designs of the era and an unwavering attention to the emphasis and life-blood of the Arts and Crafts aesthetic. In short, the SEG pottery brought together these three in an exciting expression of creativity.

Edith Guerrier (1870-1958) was a librarian and writer. After her mother’s death, she settled with her mother’s family in New Bedford, Mass. They were active in the literary circle of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott and other giants of the New England literary world. In addition, she was exposed to many free and independent thinking literary women. She graduated with honors from the Vermont Methodist Seminary and Female College in Montpelier in 1891. She then moved back to Massachusetts and entered the Museum School of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Edith Brown (1872-1932) was an artist. She was born in Nova Scotia and settled with her sister in Boston in the early 1890s. She was an accomplished artist and also attended the Museum School. She and Guerrier struck up a friendship. This was the beginning for Brown and Guerrier of a lifelong personal and professional partnership. These two women would become the heart and soul of the Saturday Evening Girls and Paul Revere Pottery.

Helen Osborne Storrow (1864-1944) was an important philanthropist in Boston. In the late 1890s and early 1900s the “Ediths” paths crossed that of Helen Osborne Storrow during her volunteer work with the Boston Public Library and North Bennet Street Industrial School. Storrow was a descendent of Martha Coffin Wright and Lucretia Coffin Mott, ardent abolishionists and suffragists.

Edith Guerrier ran library clubs and they were growing rapidly and were quite successful. In 1906, Helen Storrow, out of her generosity and interest in the library clubs, bought an acre of land at Wingaersheek Beach, West Gloucester, Mass., where she built a 14 bedroom house and began a summer camp for the girls who attended these clubs.

When Guerrier’s father became ill, Storrow knew of her troubles and decided to send the two Ediths to Europe for a vacation during the fall of 1906. During their travels they became intrigued with the “peasant ware” pottery they had seen throughout Europe. They began to explore the possibility of starting a small pottery in which the girls of the SEG Club could make pottery and earn a small sum of money to help pay for the summer camp experience.

When Brown and Guerrier returned to Boston, they visited local potteries and read all the books they could find on the matter. They bought a kick wheel from the old Merrimac Pottery and had it installed in the basement of their Chestnut Hill home, where they made pots and experimented with glazes. In the summer of 1907, many of the girls from the library clubs came to practice pottery making. In the late fall and early winter of 1907, the Ediths purchased a kiln and moved the pottery operation to a house near the summer camp in West Gloucester. But travel was not easy and the girls from the library clubs had difficulty getting to a place of such distance. Helen Storrow would once again be instrumental in the pottery’s success. In 1908, she bought a house at 18 Hull Street opposite Copp’s Hill Burying Ground in the North End. Plans were made for a shop in the front of the basement to be known as the “Bowl Shop,” where the pottery was sold. They decided to call the pottery Paul Revere Pottery because of its location near the Old North Church where Paul Revere had hung his signal lanterns.

There were nine clubs in all, one for 4th-7th grade children and the others for high school girls. Each club was named for the day of the week on which it met. The pottery was specifically to be the work of the older teenage girls and young women of the Saturday Evening Girls Club, although it was not the only activity. While many of the Saturday Evening Girls Club members were active in the making and decorating of the pottery, others only helped out with chores at the pottery while devoting the bulk of their time to writing and putting on plays, publishing a newspaper, “The SEG News,” writing poetry and planning dances. It was a popular club and all the younger girls aspired to become members.

The work of the Saturday Evening Girls and their Paul Revere Pottery was well received. The Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston, elected Edith Brown to Craftsman in 1909, and promoted her to Mastercraftsman in 1913. The Paul Revere Pottery achieved Mastership into the same prestigious Society in 1917. The pottery was included in the Fifth Exhibition of the National Society of Craftsmen in New York. They sold pottery in Boston, Maine, New York, and Chicago.

This cottage industry became very successful and by 1911, 60 girls were devoting an hour a week to the maintenance and running of the pottery, while 12 girls were working full time as decorators.

In 1915, the house on Hull Street was sold and the proceeds were used to purchase land at the top of Nottinghill Road in Brighton, Mass. Through the continuing generosity of Helen Storrow, Brown and Guerrier were able to design and have a pottery built. The pottery was incorporated in 1916 as the Paul Revere Pottery Company.

Edith Brown started the Paul Revere Pottery School of Ceramics around 1926 and it was in existence until the 1930s. She died in 1932 after a long illness. Lili Shapiro was really responsible for the continuation of the pottery and school after 1932. She had started as a Saturday Evening Girl in 1908 and stayed until 1942 when the doors of the pottery closed and it was officially sold.

Saturday Evening Girls Artists

The heart of the Saturday Evening Girls and Paul Revere Pottery was the girls themselves. They were the children of immigrants, primarily Eastern European Jews and Italians. The girls came from hardworking families and sought both integration into their new culture and intellectual advancement.

Albina Mangini was one of the early SEG artists. Other early artists were Frances Rocchi, Celia Goodman, and Rose Bacchini.Sara Galner was arguably the most exceptional SEG artist. She started at the pottery at 13 and worked from 1907 until her marriage in 1921. She returned briefly in 1926, and her work was signed SGB, for Sara Galner Bloom.Other artists include Teresa Molinari, Tillie Block, Dina Harris, Ida Goldstein, and Eva Geneco.The other two significant artists were Fannie Levine and Lili Shapiro. Fannie Levine was a prolific and excellent artist. There are examples of her work up until the mid 1920s. She worked on many items, always with great images, trees, and floral designs, and all excellently executed, many in buttercup yellow.

Many times the girls worked together, with several pottery examples having double signatures. This illustrated the cooperative effort and collegial atmosphere at the pottery, as well as the strategies of mentoring and apprenticeship.The designs for the pottery were done by Edith Brown, the artist, and were, in many cases, quite reminiscent of her earlier book illustrations. They were often simple designs, including a stylized lotus, a rosette, or even a chrysanthemum-like border, though sometimes they incorporated more complicated floral designs. She also designed decorations featuring familiar and well-loved barnyard animals such as bunnies, chicks and ducks.The designs were often outlined in black, either painted or done in the wax resist or cuerda seca process.

In addition to the grainy matte glazed pieces, the pottery produced some pieces in a more satiny matte glaze and also a high glaze. Some examples are seen in their excellent drip glazes in the mid 1920s, usually on classically simple and sleek forms. In other work from the mid 1920s, a white overglaze was used to create a frothy and mottled look. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, there were some examples of speckled orange uranium glazes and very unusual color combinations such as striated brown and green high glazes.Some pieces were hand thrown on a pottery wheel, but the most common and repeated forms were made with molds. A few of the very earliest pieces from 1908-1909, usually bowls and plates, were hand built or hand pressed.

The earliest colors used by the pottery were yellow, blue, green, gray, white and brown. The large selection of forms were of good proportion and the most important were bowls, plates, tiles and vases.The pottery produced a variety of other items as well. They made desk sets, tobacco jars, pen holder and tray combinations, lamps, candlesticks, tea sets, salts, egg cups, honey and jam jars, nut dishes, planters and flower frogs, wall pockets, round tiles and trivets, and even dog bowls and cat plates. In addition are cookie jars, and figurines of bunnies and cats.

The children’s ware by Saturday Evening Girls was one of its most charming contributions to the Arts and Crafts pottery. Understandably, this was quite popular and continues to be sought after today. Among the SEG items are children’s bread and milk sets or bowl sets. A bowl or breakfast set consisting of 3 pieces, a plate, bowl and pitcher, could have a bunny or duck design in the border. Bowls and plates with instructive mottos were quite popular, though they are hard to find today. They most often had animal motifs and the “talking” animals designed by Edith Brown.Other hard to find, but popular items with collectors are the items that featured dressed up bunnies standing erect.

Earth themes abound in the design, color and spirit of Saturday Evening Girls Pottery. They include both land and sea motifs, and the more unusual designs of birds and animals, from kissing birds and owls to mice, pigs, squirrels, camels and bears.

Factors Which Influence Value

There are at least five factors that are at play in evaluating a piece of SEG Pottery – rarity, desirability, condition, time frame, and artistry.

The pottery was not mass produced so pieces are rare and hard to find in general, and certain pieces are even rarer and harder to find. Less common pieces are decorated bookends, wall pockets, desk sets, octagonal jars or honey pots. Some unusual designs include elaborate and detailed landscapes, camels, bears, cows, windmills, mice and witches. In addition, very large pieces with good designs or an unusually shaped but more common form, such as an early pitcher, may increase value.

Desirability is a far less tangible factor than rarity and far more difficult to measure. Among SEG collectors, animals have always been popular. There are bunnies, hens, chicks, roosters, ducks and geese. Owls, pigs, camels, bears, squirrels and mice are much harder to find. Complete children’s bowl sets are another item where desirability and rarity go hand-in-hand. Trees and landscapes are also considered desirable, particularly for those who favor the Arts and Crafts era. Floral decorations are also highly prized by collectors. These may be as simple as a rosette design or as sophisticated as the one-of-a-kind vase or lamp of Queen Anne’s lace. The pottery produced many geometric designs and collectors eagerly seek them. Hens with mottos or poems are also very desirable.

It is not always reasonable or possible to limit purchases to mint condition pottery. These objects are almost 100 years old and quite fragile and it will become harder and harder to find pottery of this age in perfect condition, or any condition for that matter. The date or time period of a piece of SEG Pottery may also factor into its value. Most of what we all think of as typical and popular SEG dates from about 1912 to about 1928. Later, finely decorated pieces do come along, but they are hard to find.

The earliest pieces, 1909-1911, are not only rare, but are in some ways atypical, even quirky. Because they are atypical, even unique, the market for these cannot even begin to be ascertained. As the eye gets more experienced, we can see that each girl had a slightly different take on or execution of the design, its artistry.

When considering composition, the complexity of a design will affect the value. Simple designs will be valued lower than the more complicated designs.

Saturday Evening Girls and Paul Revere Pottery is the story of courageous, altruistic, and tirelessly hardworking women that resonates dramatically. As a collector once said, “Each piece of decorated SEG represents a little piece of the woman who made it. Folk art and history in one lovely package.”

About the Book

“[amazon_link id=”0764322273″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Saturday Evening Girls Paul Revere Pottery[/amazon_link]”
By: Meg Chalmers & Judy Young
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing
Price: $69.95

Among the Arts & Crafts potteries of early 20th century, the Saturday Evening Girls (SEG) Paul Revere Pottery holds a special place. Founded in Boston around 1907 the pottery gave young women the chance to learn a trade and the skills needed to run a business. It was a success, creating forms and decorative designs that are cherished by connoisseurs and collectors today. This long-awaited and eagerly anticipated source book is the most comprehensive reference on the Saturday Evening Girls Paul Revere Pottery ever published, and the only book that exclusively chronicles its history and art. It is an essential and important reference for beginning as well as advanced collectors. Included are 675 color photos and historic catalogs and illustrations, making up the largest archive of SEG material gathered in one place. The marks and artists’ signatures are illustrated as an aid for identification. The pots they made, in all their forms, are carefully described and, for the collector and appraiser, their value on the current market is estimated. A chapter on collecting explores the passion that leads to collecting as well as stories, venues and helpful hints. Written with warmth, humor, passion, and scholarship, this gem of a book fills a void in the existing literature, becoming the quintessential resource on an important and increasingly well-recognized American Art Pottery. It proudly takes its place in documenting women’s art and history.

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