In the beautiful bluff country of the Upper Mississippi River Valley lies the town of Red Wing, Minnesota. Incorporated in the mid-nineteenth century, Red Wing was the home to many businesses, including Red Wing Shoe Company. Once clay was found in the area, another industry – the clay industry – became a booming industry.
Beginning in 1877, Red Wing Stoneware Company began producing stoneware crocks, jars, jugs, and other items for household use. Red Wing Stoneware Company was joined by Minnesota Stoneware Company in 1883 and North Star Stoneware in 1892. For several years these three businesses combined their marketing under the umbrella of Union Stoneware. In the meantime, Red Wing Sewer Pipe Company produced sewer pipe and roofing tiles with a lower grade of local clay.
As refrigeration and affordable glass products changed the household landscape, Red Wing’s clay industry diversified into brushed ware, making vases, birdbaths, umbrella stands, and other products. By the 1930s the business had undergone another name change and a change to artware. Operating as Red Wing Potteries, employees made lamps, vases, and other decorative items. Dinnerware soon joined the inventory, with more than one hundred different patterns made for several different shape lines.
After Red Wing Potteries closed in 1967, the thousands of items produced by Red Wing’s clay industry became collectible. Red Wing Collectors Society formed in 1977 and has had a convention in Red Wing annually since then. In 2000 the Collector Society formed a foundation with the idea of developing a museum to tell the story of the local clay industry and the hundreds of people who worked in the business. The museum opened the next year. By 2013 the Pottery Museum of Red Wing moved into its new, 13,000-square-foot space across a parking lot from the one remaining pottery factory building and hired staff. The Pottery Museum of Red Wing chronicles the changes one company underwent to make the necessary adjustments – from salt glaze to white ware, to kitchenware to art pottery and dinnerware – needed to remain in business for ninety years.
Groups and visitors over all over the world enjoy the time spent at the museum. A corps of dedicated volunteers takes on numerous projects to support the Pottery Museum of Red Wing, including greeting the groups and individuals that visit – more than 30,000 in 2018.
Before leaving the museum, you can visit the gift store and purchase your own piece of pottery history. Original Red Wing stoneware, artware, and dinnerware pieces have been donated to help support museum operations. Pottery Museum of Red Wing is open Tuesday-Saturday 9:00 am-5:00 pm and Sunday 11:00 am-4:00 pm.
Photos (clockwise from left): Mini jugs were made as souvenir pieces and as “lunch hour” pieces. Employees could, for the price of the clay, design what they wanted on their lunch hours; hence the name (top left); Belle Kogan was one of the designers that Red Wing Potteries brought in to design artware lines. She designed the Prismatique line in 1962, inspired by a visit to her dentist (top right); Bob White was the most popular of the Red Wing Potteries dinnerware lines. It was produced from 1954 through 1967 (bottom right); Stoneware has been called the “Tupperware of the 19th Century.” Crocks were used for making pickles and sauerkraut. Jugs, jars, and crocks stored preserved fruits, vegetables, and meat until the advent of reliable glass container and refrigeration (bottom left).