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Laura Taylor, Rosemeade Pottery

4/19/2004:

Today is the birthday of Laura Taylor Hughes, who was born in 1903 and was one of North Dakota’s most successful potters. She was a native of Rosemeade Township and learned the ceramics craft at Valley City Normal School under Glen Lukens.

In 1931, Laura Taylor attended UND under the tutelage of Margaret Cable, one of the most successful and influential potters in the country. In addition to being Cable’s student, Taylor also became Cable’s studio assistant.

In 1936, the WPA established a ceramics project in two small rooms of the Woodrow Wilson School at Dickinson, and they hired Laura to supervise. The project employed 11 women. Another employee, the only male, was responsible for finding and digging clay for them within a 20-mile radius of Dickinson. The works were glazed and fired at Dickinson Clay Products for about six months before the project was moved to Mandan.

In 1939, the WPA asked Laura to represent them to demonstrate pottery-making at the New York World’s Fair. It was there that Taylor met Robert Hughes, proprietor of the Globe-Gazette Printing Company in Wahpeton. He was enthusiastic about her work, and in January 1940, they founded the Wahpeton Pottery Company together. Three years later, they married. The clay used by Rosemeade was dug from an enormous bed 4 miles west of Mandan, trucked to Wahpeton, and piled in the yard for one year prior to use.

The ceramics consisted mainly of figurines and small dishes. Their subjects included dogs, hippos, horses, ducks, pheasants, quail, chickens, robins, bluebirds and other songbirds in perched poses. They also developed a series of fish, sailboats and cats, and decorated many of their vases and dishes with prairie roses and tulips.

Taylor often used photographs in magazines when creating her animal designs. In 1951, National Geographic published an article titled “North Dakota Comes of Age.” Laura was one of two artists featured, including a full-page photo of her at work in her pottery. The caption read, “Laura Taylor Hughes Copies National Geographic Dogs in Rosemeade Pottery.”

Taylor and Hughes had a particularly strong run with their operation. In 1953, they changed the company name to Rosemeade Potteries for better name recognition, and while many other potteries around the country were collapsing, Rosemeade remained successful. Turning out about a thousand pieces a day during the ‘40s and ‘50s, as many as 27 employees worked full time turning out more than 200 different designs.

What sets Rosemeade apart from other ceramics are several qualities not commonly found in figurines of that era. The company developed unusual glazes applied over metal oxides; these partially combined during firing, creating warm lustrous hues specific to Rosemeade. The buff color of the clay also shows through, blending with the glazes in a unique way.

Laura Taylor Hughes died when she was only 56 years old. Two years later, in 1961, the pottery ceased production, and in 1964, the sales room was closed. Since then, Rosemeade pieces, which are quite small, went into a period of relative oblivion before becoming collectible. Recent prices have been ranging from 250 to 600 dollars apiece for good specimens.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm