Pottery draws fans to Red Wing
RED WING — Red Wing Pottery dinnerware, crocks, cookie jars and more were all a part of everyday use for many in this area. Red Wing factories also produced urns and vases large enough to be used on lawns and in local cemeteries.
Red Wing Pottery began as a commercial production company of clay products in Red Wing in 1861 by a German potter named John Paul. From 1940 to 1949, Charles Murphy became the head designer for Red Wing Pottery lines.
The Red Wing Collectors Society was founded in 1977 and now has more than 5,000 members nationwide that collect Red Wing stoneware, dinnerware and art pottery. They are devoted to educating people about American pottery. The first Red Wing Colllectors Society (RWCS) was held at the Goodhue County Historical Society in 1977.
This year at the annual convention, scheduled for July 9-11, Minnesota Public Radio talk show host Cathy Wurzer has accepted an invitation to speak. Wurzer is host of Minnesota Public Radio’s "Morning Edition" and co-host of "Almanac," a weekly public affairs program for Minnesota’s statewide public television network.
"We’re so excited that Cathy will be speaking at our convention," said Stacy Wegner, RWCS executive director. "She wrote the regional best-seller, ‘Tales of the Road: Highway 61,’ and hosted the public television documentary with that same name. Our members and the Goodhue County Historical Society provided a lot of help when she was researching for the book, which features historical sites along (U.S.) Highway 61, including a chapter about Red Wing Pottery and the potters themselves."
Wurzer said she accepted the invitation from the RWCS to speak at its 2009 convention, "mainly due to the success of ‘Tales of the Road: Highway 61.’ The book would not have been complete without a section on Red Wing Pottery."
‘Stories that need to be told’
"As a kid, I remember going down to the pottery showroom and wandering around the shelves of dinnerware, and I know many Minnesotans of all ages had that same experience, so I wanted to celebrate the memory of the pottery and its workers in my book," Wurzer said. "I focused, too, on the grave markers made by early potters. They are so evocative and beautiful and so heartfelt."
Wurzer says a substantial amount of footage was shot for a television documentary companion to her book at the current pottery owned by Scott Gilmer.
"We also used some audio tape from the oral histories of potters which was done by the Goodhue County Historical Society and of course, they have great photos that we have as well," Wurzer added. "Due to time constraints, we decided to save the Red Wing Pottery story for ‘Tales of the Road: Highway 61’ part two. Turns out that will be a good thing. I think it deserves a longer segment in the documentary and I plan to pick the brains of those at the convention to help us with that segment for part two."
When it comes to collecting, not all of us are collectors of Red Wing Pottery.
"I wish I was a collector of Red Wing Pottery," Wurzer said. "I’m a big fan of the art pottery. I love the sleek lines and beautiful glazes. I wish I had some pieces — I don’t. Sorry to say, I have no other background other than an interest in history and with my journalistic background, I’m used to digging around for good stories. That is what history is all about. Interesting stories that need to be told."
Wurzer’s book came out in the fall of 2008. It is now a regional best-seller. The television documentary had its premiere in March of this year.
"It has been an amazing experience and this has turned out to be the road trip of a lifetime," Wurzer said. "Not only have I traveled the 440 miles from Grand Portage in the far north to La Crescent in the far south too many times to mention, the book tour has taken me to Alexandria, Park Rapids, Cambridge, St. Cloud and many other towns not even near Highway 61."
Memories from the road
As a native Minnesotan, Wurzer has traveled Highway 61 for years. She says she loves the North Shore and goes near Two Harbors on a fairly regular basis because her parents retired there. Her best friend, Wurzer says, is from the Red Wing area, so she travels that stretch of the highway often as well.
"What has been interesting to me is to discover how the road reflects the terrain along it," Wurzer said. "The northern stretch of 61, from Duluth to the border has a wilderness feel to it. I love the way the road hugs the North Shore of Lake Superior. Down south, from Hastings to La Crescent, there is a more pastoral atmosphere and the towns that dot the road are historic and genteel."
Red Wing is the perfect example, Wurzer says. She says she never tires of driving that road because there is always something new to see or to enjoy seeing again on either side of the highway.
"I think many of us don’t really see what is alongside the road. We tend to ignore those buildings that look as if they’ve seen better days, but it is those sites that are most fascinating to me," Wurzer said. "I think any old building has a wealth of stories and secrets. Look at the Red Wing Pottery for goodness sakes. What amazing history is contained within that building. Thank goodness it has been saved and is being used."
The convention is open to all members. Saturday events including the show, sale and display are open to the public. Those interested in becoming a member should contact the RWCS business office at 1-800-977-7927, or e-mail email@example.com.
Sandy Erdman is a Winona freelance writer. Antiques & Collectibles runs every Saturday in Simply Southeast. Send comments and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Red Wing Collectors Society and Cathy
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Red Wing Collectors Society
Tales of the Road