University of North Dakota pottery might fairly be called the grandparent of North Dakota potteries. They are the oldest (the School of Mines at UND was established in 1890), and they helped train some who became giants in North Dakota Pottery (Charles Grantier and Laura Taylor). Dean Babcock, a chemist, made surveys of North Dakota's mineral resources, including clay. He learned that we have deposits of high grade potter's clay, some of unusual purity. Babcock sent North Dakota clay to several pottery concerns: Meyer Pottery, Roseville, Owens, Handicraft Guild, and Ferock, among others. Pottery made by these firms and others was displayed at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904 and at the 1909 National Corn Exposition in Omaha.
By 1910 Babcock established a Ceramics Department and hired Margaret Cable, an experienced potter. She and her staff and students began making utilitarian wares: tile, brick, jugs, jars, decorative pieces, bowls, vases, tea and tankard sets, plates, trays, tobacco jars, etc. By 1913 the distinctive UND seal was in use and continued for 50 years. Cable's first chance to display pottery was at the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco where over 200 pieces were displayed.
Cable described these methods of making pots. Clay formed on a potter's wheel is known as "throwing". Clay forms can be quickly made and duplicated by "casting" in Plaster of Paris molds. It is also possible to "hand build". Decorative wares are of two main types, those with designs carved in low relief upon the surface of the damp clay vessels and those with patterns painted in mineral pigments or colored glazes on the biscuit ware.
Some early UND pottery is characteristic of the Arts & Crafts movement. Some show Art Noveau or Art Deco influences. Others feature native flora and fauna, Indian and western motifs, or farming and hunting scenes. Others show exquisite gradation from one color to another.
Early sales of UND pottery were primarily to locals and friends of the department and university. By the late 1920's souvenirs were made for sale at Glacier Park hotels. Soon shops in North Dakota and surrounding states were ordering pottery. By 1938 a salesman was hired and a list of samples prepared. Gift shops, drug, jewelry and department stores in North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota began selling UND. In addition, many special order souvenirs for conventions and groups were produced in the 30's and 40's, including vases, plaques, medallions, paperweights, ashtrays, and nut cups. Groups that ordered souvenirs included the Boy Scouts, 4-H clubs, Masons, Rainbow, Odd Fellows, Rebekah, PEO, American Legion and Auxiliary, Lions Club, Daughters of Norway, Medical Association, Young Republicans, Non-Partisan League, and others.
Right: Candy jar with cover sgraffito 6" tall, Seal: incised Olive Hundley ‘46
A number of special presentation pieces were made at UND. Queen Marie of Rumania received a vase and bowl in 1926 upon her visit to North Dakota. A North Dakota Products Vase was given to Governor Sorlie in 1926; another to President Budd of the Great Northern Railway in 1927; to President of UND, Thomas Kane, and to James Milloy, Executive Secretary of the Greater North Dakota Association. In 1928 a Lewis & Clark bowl was presented to Miss Sarah Anderson (descendant of Meriwether Lewis) who christened the Lewis & Clark bridge at Williston. Crown Princess Martha of Norway received a vase in 1939, and a vase was presented to President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
The School of Mines experimented with and developed many clays and glazes. Clays used included Dickinson, Beulah, Hebron, Mandan, Weigel, Red and Grey Ross, McCurdy, Hettinger, and bentonite. Much North Dakota pottery was made from a mix of Hettinger, Mandan, Red Ross, and Beulah clay.
Bentonite clays, which fired to a rich burnt sienna color, were used primarily for pottery with Indian motifs. An advantage of bentonite was that it could have glazes applied to green ware and be finished in one firing.
Margaret Cable was head of the University of North Dakota School of Mines Ceramics Department from 1910 to 1949. She instructed thousands of students and gave countless lectures and demonstrations throughout the state and nation. She won numerous state and national awards. Her artistic accomplishments were many, and her work is among the most sought after of the North Dakota potters.
Among her staff were Flora Cable Huckfield, Margaret Cable's sister, who was with the School of Mines from 1924 to 1949. Hildegard Fried was on staff from 1918 to 1924, Frieda Hammers from 1926 to 1939, Julia Mattson from 1924 to 1963, and Margaret Pachl from 1949 to 1970.
A talented student, Laura A. Taylor attended UND from 1931 to 1933 and was a student assistant in ceramics for a time. She was State Supervisor of the WPA pottery project and later established Rosemeade Pottery.
Another talented student was Charles Grantier. He was a student assistant in ceramics. He worked for Dickota Pottery and also was State Supervisor of the WPA pottery project.
With Julia Mattson's retirement in 1963, use of the UND seal to mark North Dakota pottery was dropped.
In retrospect, Margaret Cable's years at UND were a highly productive and creative period. North Dakota has been enriched by her artistic achievements.
Barr, Margaret Libby, Donald Miller, and Robert Barr. "University of North Dakota Pottery, the Cable Years." Knight Printing Company, Fargo, North Dakota, 1977.
Top: Bowl, prairie rose design 8" tall, Seal: Prairie Rose incised Ramyos Huck-4321
UND - A History and Comparative Study of the Art Pottery Made at the University of North Dakota, Copyright 2004 by Ken Forster, Marlin Media Publishing, Sarasota, FL marlin-media.com
University of North Dakota Pottery: The Cable Years, Copyright 1999 by Donald Miller. $25.00 postpaid to UND Pottery Book, Box 8231, Grand Forks, ND 58202.
America's Salt & Pepper Shakers, Copyright 2000 by Sylvia Tompkins and Irene Thornburg. $33.95 postpaid to Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 4880 Lower Valley Road Atglen, PA 19310. 610-593-1777.
University of North Dakota Pottery: The Cable Years, Copyright 1977 by Margaret Libby Barr, Donald Miller, and Robert Barr. Out of Print.
Collector's Encyclopedia of Dakota Potteries, Copyright 1996 by Darlene Hurst Dommel, Collector Books, Paduca, KY. Out of Print.
Earth, Water, and Fire - The History and Uses of North Dakota Clay, 1998 Spring/Summer Issue North Dakota History - Journal of the Northern Plains, Volume 65, No. 2 & 3. $10.50 postpaid to State Historical Society of North Dakota, 612 Boulevard Avenue, Bismarck, ND 58505. 701-328-2666.
North Dakota Horizons, spring 1978, Greater North Dakota Association, Fargo, ND. Out of Print