An interview about collecting Frankoma and other vintage decorative pottery with Molly Ives Brower, aka The Vintage Reader.
How and why did you start collecting Frankoma pottery? Was it, at first, just part of decorating the house?
When I was in high school I started going to the Tulsa Flea Market with my mother every few weeks. By the time I was in college we were going every time I was home on a Saturday morning. Most of the booths seemed to have at least one piece of Frankoma; I think every bride in Oklahoma from the 1950s through the 70s must have gotten Frankoma for her wedding, and much of it, especially the dinnerware, was in colors I didn’t particularly care for–muted greens and browns and golds. It was so common that I never paid much attention to it.
Then one Saturday I was looking for a birthday present for my sister, and found a little round vase in a beautiful clear greenish-blue, with a black base. I was surprised when I turned it over and found out it was Frankoma. The mark was different, for one thing, and the clay was lighter than the dark red that I was used to seeing. The dealer I bought it from didn’t know the significance of that, and neither did I. Then I started looking more carefully at similar pieces and talking to other dealers, who taught me all about the differences in the clay and the marks and the glazes. I even developed a fondness for the older green and gold glazes. (I still don’t like the browns, though.)
The summer after I graduated from college (1988), I started buying more pieces at the flea market, usually from one particular dealer who was extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about pottery from Oklahoma and Arkansas. He sold me some other pieces from the region–Cherokee and Niloak and Tamac. I don’t think I would have developed such an interest in collecting if the dealers at the Tulsa Flea Market hadn’t been so friendly and willing to share their knowledge with a young collector.
How many pieces of Frankoma do you have?
I really don’t know. Between my own collecting and people giving me stuff, I’ve probably got more than 100 pieces. I’ve sold some through the years, and wish I hadn’t.
What do you focus on when collecting pottery?
Mainly, I just buy things I like to look at. With Frankoma, I like the local and personal aspect. I have one of their salt-and-pepper sets in the shape of the First National Bank building in Tulsa (they gave them away at the opening of the bank in the early 1950s) and several of their “Christmas cards”–each year Frankoma made a small dish that the Frank family gave to their friends, inscribed with the year and a message. I’ve quit actively collecting it for the most part, but every once in a while I’ll find something really neat at a garage sale or estate sale. I don’t collect their dinnerware or large pieces at all–I like the small, unusual stuff.
With other pottery, I look mainly at glazes and shapes. I still like deep greens and blues, and for some reason I also gravitate toward orange pottery, although I don’t usually like orange.
I also like modern artists who are inspired by the past. In Western New York there’s a lot of Arts & Crafts influence (especially around East Aurora, where the Roycroft campus is), and when I lived in Buffalo, I loved looking at the local artists’ work. I couldn’t afford much of it, but I have a couple of nice tiles. 🙂
I have a whole collection of green art pottery that is obviously from the same place, but it’s not marked, and I’ve never been able to figure out what it is. My first piece came from my regular Frankoma dealer–it got chipped in transit to the flea market and he gave it to me, but then I started finding it all over the place. I’ve found this pottery everywhere I’ve lived, and I’ve even seen a piece on the cover of a book, but I still don’t have any idea where it came from or who made it. Maybe some other reader could identify it?!
Let’s give it a go!
This photo is of my mystery pottery–a large urn and three small pitchers. They all look hand-formed, and there are some faint coil marks on the urn. The clay is dark red. I’ve found several pieces of it that sellers have tagged as Frankoma, but it’s not Frankoma–I would love it if someone could help identify it!
Any pottery collectors or experts out there? Share your info in the comments!
Molly will be back here at Inherited Values soon; meanwhile, she can be followed at Twitter: @VintageReader.
PS The print included in the “mystery pottery” photo is a hand-tinted engraving, Le Lapin, by Allen Ye Printmaker of Oswego, NY.
All photos the property of Molly Ives Brower.