The Rookwood Ship Mural

Above the Museum store is a stunning mural made of clay tiles, a remarkable survival of American art pottery. Founded in 1880, Rookwood of Cincinnati, Ohio, was the premiere American pottery by the end of the century. They produced many marine-themed tile designs, but none approached this extraordinary mural in technique, subject, and scale. Completed around 1914, the mural is 5 feet 6 inches high and was originally at least 70 feet long.

The scene, comprised of 600 8-¼ inch square tiles, depicts a number of antique ships in a calm harbor. A sense of authenticity is created by the detail in which the scene is rendered, from the hulls of the ships to the rigging. Despite being made in clay and glaze, the work is skillfully rendered in harmonious colors. Rather than transferred from a mold, the mural was drawn by hand using a squeeze bag or tube filled with dark-colored slip, or thinned clay. The decorator piped the pattern onto the tiles like frosting on a cake, creating raised lines that not only separated colored glazes, but provided fine details. Because of its scale and complexity, and therefore cost, this mural must have been a special commission or exhibition piece.

The Two Red Roses Foundation was able to acquire most of the mural in two purchases, reuniting long-separated parts in an eight-year restoration project. The story of this stunning mural by the Rookwood Pottery Company is one of luck, vision, and skill, spanning more than a century from original production to installation here.

Read our ebook - The Rookwood Ship Mural