When I began collecting Red Wing Pottery in the early 1990s, I was most drawn to items from the 1950s. The aesthetic - especially of Charles Murphy's dinnerware - spoke to me. Murphy's designs evoked nostalgia for an era I had no right to be nostalgic for. This period was marked by an optimism that looked forward to space exploration, world peace, and expanding democracy and embodied these goals in the design of objects and buildings. Maybe I'm overstating it, but for me, Red Wing's 1950s patterns resonate with that same kind of exuberance.
Because I was so in tune with that period, much of Red Wing's later production did not interest me. The shapes and colors of the 1960s weren't yet something I was ready to embrace. They felt like kitsch, not design, and I poo-poohed them for several years.
When I started dating Paul back in Minnesota in 2008, we would go antiquing together, and we both found ourselves drawn to the Prismatique line. It became the rare thing that we both hunted for with alacrity.
Prismatique was designed by the amazing Belle Kogan. Widely regarded as the first female industrial designer, Kogan was born in Russia in 1902 and emigrated to the US when she was just four. She designed for a host of American manufacturers of household goods, from Libbey Glass to Reed & Barton. “The women of today those who belong to the middle classes (and these are the women who comprise the greatest group of consumers)," she said, "want attractive things, things which are smart and things which are new."
She designed for Red Wing throughout her career, from the 1930s to the 1960s, designing everything from dinnerware to art pottery. Prismatique came toward the end of Red Wing's run. She designed the line in 1963. According to legend, she was inspired at the dentist's office, looking at the model of a tooth. She went home from her cleaning and sketched a variety of related shapes for planters and vases. Some clearly look like teeth, others seem more inspired by stars. They all feature geometric forms -- crisp planes and unexpected curves -- that are a playground for light and shadow.
The line comes in colors that must have seemed fresh and bold in Kennedy-era America: Mandarin (a bright, flat orange), Yellow (a pale yet vibrant version), Persian Blue (which most often shows up as crackle glaze), Celadon (an earthy, speckled green), and White (matte and straightforward). Pieces usually come in two colors, one interior and one exterior. Prismatique shapes occasionally turn up in off-colors, including a pallid teal and a baby-poop brown (not that I have an opinion about this shade); these may have been custom orders or tests.
You'll notice that I copped out a little here and did not select a single Prismatique object. I'll justify that by saying that the way pieces converse with each other on a shelf is part of the line's appeal. I will admit this much: the orange-celadon combination in the center of my photograph is my favorite color combination.
A note to the would-be collector: whether because of all the sharp edges and angles, or because Red Wing was on the wane and no longer paying great attention to quality control, Prismatique is plagued by production flaws: chipped corners, glaze skips, lumps and bumps. Damage is also common - fleabites, nicks, and chips abound. The line has gotten to be elusive in the last 10 years, and finding pieces without flaws is difficult.