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Rookwood Pottery Continues to Break the Mold

Maria Longworth’s vision of a renowned woman-owned pottery manufacturing business thrives in Over-the-Rhine 143 years later.

by John Fox

The Rookwood Pottery Company employs more than 70 people at its 88,000-square-foot facility in Over-the-Rhine to produce some of the world’s finest art pottery and architectural tile. The company was founded in Cincinnati by Maria Longworth in 1880 as one of the country’s first woman-owned manufacturing businesses. After several ownership changes in the late 20th Century, Rookwood production returned here in 2009.

Longworth’s dream of an American ceramics studio to rival those in Europe and Asia started to come true in Rookwood’s first two decades in business. The company won top medals at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and the 1900 Paris Expo.

Longworth famously envisioned Rookwood as an arts manufacturing center where “the potter’s wheel will be turned by woman power.” She was the granddaughter of Nicholas Longworth, one of Cincinnati’s first business leaders, whose family home would later become the Taft Museum of Art. Her nephew, Nicholas III, served as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1925 to 1931 and married Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice. Maria died in 1932 at age 83.

Every piece of pottery or tile touches at least 13 sets of hands, according to Rookwood managers. Artists sketch and then carve designs on hand-thrown forms, and those designs are made into plaster molds in order to produce finished pieces. Each piece of pottery or tile is fired twice in kilns; the first removes all moisture and turns it into ceramic material, and the final “glaze firing” bonds the glaze finish to the ceramic.

Rookwood staff artists employ a “hands on” approach throughout the manufacturing process, from initial form making on the potter’s wheel to hand painting tiles to applying handles to mug pieces. All production work is done on Race Street just north of Findlay Market, and the site includes a gift shop.

Rookwood Pottery hosts factory tours on Fridays and Saturdays to allow a peek into its time-intensive processes. The $10 tour ticket cost can be applied to gift shop purchases of $50 or more.