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Glidden Parker's Granddaugher Seeking to Remanufacture Select Pieces of Her Grandfather's Glidden Pottery

Glidden Parker’s Granddaughter Seeking to Remanufacture Select Pieces of Her Grandfather’s Glidden Pottery

Patriot and Free Press, July 19-25 2017

By Cynthia Dutton

(Transcribed by Cheryl Mueller)

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The family of Glidden Pottery founder, is poised to resurrect the company that ceased production in 1957. Many Glidden pieces today are worth thousands and thousands of dollars to collectors.

Glidden Pottery was founded in 1940 by Glidden Parker, a graduate student at the New York State College of Ceramics in Alfred, New York. The pottery is unique stoneware that was made using cutting edge technology at the time: the ream press and slip casts. Parker was both the founder and one of the designers, along with another Alfred Ceramics student, Fong Chow.

Both dinnerware and art ware were produced. Parker marketed the stoneware to middle class Americans. A 16 piece undecorated starter set was sold for a very affordable $14.50. Though production was tremendous with over 6000 pieces manufactured a week, each piece was individually glazed and some were hand-decorated with stunning, simplistic designs.

The venture began in the studio of well-known Alfred ceramics professor Marion Fosdick on North Main Street in Alfred and was later moved into its own building. The stoneware was molded from a mixture of clays from New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, fired at very high temperatures, then glazed and decorated. The Glidden line was sold in fine department stores like Bloomingdale’s, Bergdoff Goodman and Marshall Fields across the U.S. misshapen or nicked pieces, “seconds” were stored in three Alfred-area barns where they remained unseen for years. An interesting side note to the Glidden story is that in 1949, two brothers, Paul and Morris Secon, loaded up the family station with the Glidden seconds that were “in storage,” paying $2500 for 2500 pieces, and began the now famous chain “The Pottery Barn” in Manhattan.

Glidden Parker first focused on designs intended for floral arrangements, moving into serving pieces later. In 1940, only 1-2 craftsmen were employed to make 3000 pieces in Alfred. By 1943, Glidden Pottery was established in the national gift market scene, and had 8-10 employees. By 1944, 150,000 pieces were manufactured annually, which increased to 6000/week by 1946 with 55 employees. While Gliddenware was affordable, it was also considered very chic among household accessories.

Gliddenware was soon an integral part of Americana, with pieces frequently seen on television series like “I Love Lucy and “Perry Mason.” Lucille Ball extinguished her cigarette in a Glidden Pottery shirred egg server in a show in 1951! The pottery was also frequently used by food giants like Campbell Soups and Hormel Chile in popular magazine ads to showcase their food products.

So what happen to make Glidden Parker shut down the Alfred factory in 1958? His statement read that is because of difficult market conditions due to large-scale importations of pottery from Europe, and especially Japan, and in the face of general recession in gift and dinnerware merchandising, and rising taxes and labor costs.” While the factory closed, Glidden Galleries, the retail shop in Alfred, remained open and controlled by Parker until 1970. Under new owners and with a new name, the shop is still there today and carries local potter’s wares. The original factory was demolished to make way for the expansion of Alfred University.

The rest of the story cannot be told without the help of local antiques dealer and connoisseur of Glidden Pottery, Vincent van Zwanenberg. Van Zwanenberg’s first recollection of Glidden Pottery are memories of several pieces in his home growing up that his parents received as wedding gifts. He has been collecting Glidden Pottery for many years. Some pieces are for sale in his store, Vintage Vibe in Cuba, and many more are in his home. He says Glidden Pottery changed his philosophy about “collecting” and about what he wanted to sell in his store…he now looks foe functional pieces that can be enjoyed best by using them. He says Glidden doesn’t scratch, looks like new 50 years later and the classic lines are still revered.

Van Zwanenberg met Katherine Parker Grossman, and granddaughter of Glidden Parker at a 2001 Glidden exhibit at Alfred College of Ceramics. Because of their common passion, Vincent and Katherine became fast friends.

Grossman who is a college professor in the DC area, has registered Glidden as a trade-mark and would like to again manufacture and reissue select pieces of Glidden Pottery in the United States. She believes it would be as popular today as it was in the 1950’s because today’s millennials like to know where their things “come from and what they are made of” and they like to buy local American-made products. And like van Zwaneberg, they like their art to be “useful.” Grossman says, “Glidden Pottery is a symbol of American craftsmanship and entrepreneurship which I would like to make available to today’s consumers. The mid-century modern designs are still very appealing to people.”

She was busy with meetings during a recent Allegany County visit. She met with Alfred resident Wally Higgins, now 91, who is believed to be the last living employee of the original Glidden Pottery Factory. He worked in the mold shop after graduating from Alfred’s College of Ceramics. He shared his memories of her grandparents with her, whom she did not have the chance to get to know. Higgins was later a Professor in the Ceramics Department at Alfred.

Grossman also met with Dr. Mark Zupan, President of Alfred University and several Professors in the Ceramics Department about her idea to reissue Glidden Pottery in Alfred. She was encouraged by the possibility of patterning with the school where Glidden Pottery began.

Grossman is actively looking for the original “recipes” for glazes and any original molds. If anyone has knowledge of the glazes or molds please contact her at kpg@gliddenware.com. She is also seeking investors in the venture to reissue Glidden Pottery.

In her research Grossman has learned about 3-D printers which can scan and reproduce the lines of Glidden pieces without the original molds. She is excited about this new technology which will bring back the old!

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