North Dakota Pottery Collectors Society




WPA Ceramics


by Arley & Bonnie Olson

The Works Progress Administration in July 1936 established a ceramics project at Dickinson, N. D. It was headquartered in 2 small rooms at the Woodrow Wilson School. There were 12 employees (11 women and 1 man) under the supervision of Laura Taylor. The glazing & firing of the items was done at the Dickinson Clay Products Co. The male employee was responsible for collecting clay in a 20 mile radius of Dickinson, North Dakota. This project lasted for about six months then the ceramics project was relocated to Mandan, North Dakota and established in the basement of the Central grade school building. There were nine WPA workers given regular employment and later at times there were as many as 12.

Mandan did not have a kiln until June 1940. In the interim, items were sent to UND at Grand Forks, North Dakota and Fort Yates, North Dakota for firing & glazing. Later the operation moved to the Mandan Fairgrounds. The clay used was dug about nine miles west of Mandan, North Dakota.

Laura Taylor, WPA Ceramics Supervisor was sent to the New York Worlds Fair in 1939 to demonstrate pottery making on the wheel. Charles Grantier was appointed WPA Ceramics Supervisor in 1939 replacing Laura Taylor. Charles Grantier served through 1942 when the ceramics project was terminated.

The purpose of the Federal Program was to train unemployed individuals. All the articles made by the workers could not be sold and were sent to North Dakota State Institutions. Examples; Nursery Schools, State Hospitals, Libraries, Schools and Institutions with Hot Lunch Programs.

Figurines illustrating Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme Characters, doll heads and animal figurines were made. The nursery and animal figurines were distributed to the nursery schools in the state of North Dakota. Plaques of historical interest such as a set of four illustrated transportation also a set of four depicting housing. A set of two plaques depicted agriculture. These were sent to the libraries through the state of North Dakota. Utilitarian ware was made and sent to schools with hot lunch programs and state hospitals. Items consisted of cereal bowls, custard cups, milk jugs, pitchers and beverage glasses.

The decorative items consisted of vases, book ends, paper weights, lamps, incense burners, ashtrays and decorative plates. WPA swirled clay items also exist. They are similar to Dickinson Dickota Badlands pottery and Niloak. WPA items are stamped in black "WPA Ceramics N. Dak." and some are incised WPA or WPA N. D. Some items also have the initials of the potter.




 Plate 10-1/2 diam.,
Sgraffito design.



"Nursery School Pottery"
Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme Characters, from 6" to 8-1/2" tall,
incised WPA or black stamp WPA Ceramics N. Dak.


Swirl Pottery   The bowl 7 is marked with the WPA black stamp and cg initials incised (Charles Grantier).  The blue & cream vase 6 tall is stamped with the WPA  black stamp and ph initials incised (Pete Hague).  The tall brown vase 7 is marked with the WPA black stamp with ND 1939 incised and also incised is fjl (Frank J Lantz).

Photos courtesy of Arley and Bonnie Olson


Trenton Trades Pottery and C.C.C. Ceramics were also produced during the WPA era.

WPA of Ohio produced some excellent Nursery Rhyme figures.  To view the collection at the Cleveland Public Library, please click here:  Cleveland Public Library WPA


North Dakota Pottery, Dickota and WPA Ceramics, Copyright 2010 by Arley H. & Bonnie J. Olson.  $37.50 postpaid to Arley & Bonnie Olson, 1060 Foster Drive, Dickinson, ND 58601.
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.



Home ] Membership ] Convention ] Newsletter ] Road Show ] ND Pottery ] Endowment Fund ] Contact us ] Links ]

Send mail to with questions or comments about this web site.
If you are inquiring about a piece of North Dakota pottery, please include as much information as possible (size, markings, condition, and a photo if available).
Copyright 2002 North Dakota Pottery Collectors Society
Last modified: 07-15-2019