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Hughes, Laura Taylor
b. April 19, 1903; d. 1959
Discipline: Ceramics/Pottery

A native of DeLamere, North Dakota, Laura Taylor formally studied pottery for the first time at the State Teachers College in Valley City. After that, she enrolled in the ceramics department at the University of North Dakota (UND) in Grand Forks. The department’s well-known director Margaret Kelly Cable took Taylor under her wing and eventually hired her as a studio assistant. There she showed great potential and even had a ceramic tile picture she produced displayed at the North Dakota Building at the Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago.

Upon graduation, she took a position with the Dickinson Clay Products Company, which had changed its name from the Dickinson Fire and Pressed Brick Company when the business expanded to include pottery. (Native clay from western North Dakota, especially bentonite, was plentiful and extensively employed by the company in both its bricks and pottery. Since the source of the clay was an important factor in its products, the pottery was marketed under the trade name “Dickota,” which was formed from the first four letters its home town and the last three letters of its home state.) While working there, she became acquainted with Charles Grantier, a fellow potter and UND-alum.

Her work with Dickota pottery was short-lived, however, as she soon accepted a position as the state supervisor for a Works Progress Administration (WPA) program called the Federal Arts Project. The WPA was a federal New Deal program designed to alleviate unemployment during the Great Depression; and the Federal Arts Project helped provide jobs for professional artists and train non-artists in practical artistic skills such as ceramics and pottery.

In 1939, the WPA asked Taylor to demonstrate pottery-making at the New York Worlds Fair. She accepted and was succeeded as state supervisor by Grantier, her colleague. It was at the Worlds Fair that she met Robert J. Hughes, who was the owner of the Globe-Gazette Printing Company in Wahpeton, North Dakota and an admirer of Taylor’s. He convinced her to go into business with him and in January 1940, they established the Wahpeton Pottery Company together. They were married three years later.

Using clay dug near Mandan, the pottery company produced figurines and small dishes that used plants and animals found in North Dakota as subjects. These not only included the usual pheasants and ducks, but also the state flower, wild prairie rose. A unique production process that involved painting metal oxides underneath the glazes gave the finished pieces muted earth tones that set them apart from other ceramic products. As the company developed, employees started to paint feathers, eyes, beaks, and other decorative details onto the pieces. All of these distinctions helped make the Wahpeton Pottery Company very successful. In 1953, the company changed its name to Rosemeade Potteries and while many ceramics companies went bankrupt, Rosemeade thrived.

In 1951, Laura Taylor Hughes received the Citation Award, which added her name to the Honor Roll of the American Artists Professional League.

She died in 1959 at the young age of fifty-six. Two years later, Rosemeade Potteries ceased production and in 1964, the company’s sales division closed its doors.

Being quite small, many Rosemeade pieces that were purchased became lost over time. However, they soon became collectible and have fetched as much as $600 for a mint condition piece.

- Ben Nemenoff

Bibliography:

Barr, Paul E. North Dakota Artists. Grand Forks: University of North Dakota Library, 1954.

Dommel, Darlene Hurst. “Rosemeade Pottery.” North Dakota Pottery Collectors Society <http://www.ndpcs.org>.

Helm, Merry. “Laura Taylor, Rosemeade Pottery.” Dakota Datebook. Merrill Piepkorn, host. Bill Thomas, producer. North Dakota Public Radio. Originally broadcast April 19, 2004.

Rolfsrud, Erling Nicolai. Extraordinary North Dakotans. Alexandria, Minnesota: Lantern Books, 1954.

Taylor, Edwin Mrs. Catalogue of Art Workers Within North Dakota. Bismarck: American Association of University Women (local branch), 1945.

 
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