Who Killed American Kitsch?

After World War II, collecting whimsical ceramic dishes, accessories, and figurines became very popular in the U.S. -and for a while they were all made in America. Some designers became more popular than others, and their works were in high demand. Collectors Weekly talks to Donald-Brian Johnson, author of the book Postwar Pop: Memorabilia of the Mid-20th Century about some of those designers, who were mostly named Betty.
“Betty Cleminson’s pieces were whimsical, but also useful,” says Johnson. “A lot of them had cute sayings on them that Betty wrote. She made string holders, pie birds, wall pockets, and other things you’d use around the house. Her razor-blade bank was a popular one, as was the girl with freckles that looked like a head vase. When I first saw it, I thought it was a mug, except it didn’t have a handle. Turns out you were supposed to put a dish scrubber in it.”

With ceramic figurines, the biggest sellers were usually the pairs. “People put them on end tables on either side of a couch, or on night tables at either side of a bed,” says Johnson. “There was just more of a market for pairs.”

Ceramic Arts Studio made the most of this trend by making its pairs as both regular figurines and salt-and-pepper shakers. That way, they could appeal to multiple audiences. “The unlikeliest figurines were sometimes made into salt-and-pepper shakers,” says Johnson. “One Betty Harrington design paired a ‘Fire Man’ and ‘Fire Woman’, each around 11 inches tall, that were artistic representations of what fire would look like if it assumed a human form. They had human faces, but their clothing and such were all rendered as flames. They’re wonderful figurines, but it’s difficult to imagine using them as salt-and-pepper shakers.”

These ceramic works from the 1940s and '50s are regaining popularity, but the original American-made designs are not so easy to find. Link -Thanks, Ben!

(Image credit: John Petzold)

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