Reginald Guy Cowan was born in 1884 in East Liverpool, Ohio—at the time an important center of American ceramics production. His father worked as a pottery designer. While Cowan was still a boy, his family moved to Syracuse, another pottery-producing center. Cowan was trained at the New York State School of Clayworking and Ceramics, a part of Alfred University in Western New York. In 1908, after his schooling, Cowan moved to Cleveland to teach high school ceramics production at a local trade school. He also began teaching at the Cleveland Institute of Art where he crossed paths with many talented and important future artists and designers.
In 1912, Cowan achieved a long-held dream: he opened his very own ceramics studio—which he called the Cleveland Pottery and Tile Company—in Lakewood, just outside of Cleveland. He produced a lot of tiles and a smaller number of decorative ceramic items. Alas, World War I was right around the corner, at which time Cowan closed his studio while he (and his workers) served in the military.
After the war, Cowan re-opened in Rocky River, another part of Greater Cleveland. The new studio, now called Cowan Pottery, had a functioning gas well (for firing the clay) and access to the railroad (to bring-in supplies and take-away finished goods). Business took-off. Not only was Cowan writing orders in all of the biggest American cities, but he was tapping many of his most-talented students to design pieces for his studio. Amongst the artists Cowan engaged was Paul Manship, the great American sculptor, who later enjoyed great success as a bronze sculptor and is best-known for his Prometheus Fountain at Rockefeller Center in New York.
Business grew as Cowan’s production evolved from the Arts & Crafts to the Art Deco. But sales faltered after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the following Great Depression. Unable to pay his staff or his bills, Cowan closed his workshop for good in December of 1931.
The Arts & Crafts bookends above, made in the Teens or early Twenties, depict the artistry and quality for which Cowan was known—a beautiful marriage of great sculpting and sublime glazing. Please click on the photo above to learn more about them.
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