Object of the Week: Refrigerator Pitchers by Hall China Company

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Given that the Great Depression caused a worldwide economic downturn that specifically ravaged the United States, it may be surprising to learn that in the 1930s refrigerators became commonplace in American homes. Their newfound prominence in the kitchen distanced modern refrigerator-owners from the outmoded use of iceboxes and cellar storage. Refrigerators were marketed as sanitary and modern. High demand for the household appliances meant that competition between retailers was fierce. Hall China Company, based in Liverpool, Ohio, was famous for their dinnerware, kitchenware, and teapots. The company, established in 1903, initially struggled, facing strong competition and little financial backing. Needing to distinguish his company from its competition, Hall China Co.’s owner Robert Taggart Hall (1877-1920) pushed his team to develop a method for making ceramic wares that required a single firing, which would allow them to produce product more quickly and affordably. After nearly five years of trial and error, the company created its first successful single fire glaze in 1911. The strong, non-porous ceramics would also resist crazing, which occurs when fine cracks penetrate the glaze over time and use. Because of these qualities, Hall China Co.’s product became popular across the country.

 

Hall China Company, Refrigerator Water Pitcher, 1938, earthenware, 9¼ x 7½ x 3¾ inches, Everson Museum of Art; Gift of Mary and Paul Brandwein, 96.23.19.a-b

 

Hall China Co. saw the popularization of refrigerators in the 1930s and capitalized on this appliance boom by developing unique ceramic refrigerator wares. These new types of ceramic wares included water pitchers, food storage boxes to hold leftovers, and covered butter and cheese dishes, and these wares were specifically designed to fit comfortably inside refrigerators. Hall China Co.’s Refrigerator Water Pitcher and Westinghouse Refrigerator Pitcher exemplify the shapes and colors of refrigerator ceramic wares of the period. Art Deco, an artistic movement that emphasized clean, simple, “streamlined” shapes with elegant, geometric patterns, informed the design of these ceramic objects. For both Refrigerator Water Pitcher and Westinghouse Refrigerator Pitcher the designer used rounded curves and opaque color glazes. These muted hues of periwinkle blue, dusty rose, and poppy red were popular choices for Hall China Co.’s refrigerator ceramics. Hall China Co. created these refrigerator ceramic wares for individual sale, but also created exclusive designs for major refrigerator manufacturers Westinghouse, Hotpoint, Sears, Montgomery Ward, and General Electric, making their ceramics incredibly popular with collectors. Refrigerator Water Pitcher and Westinghouse Refrigerator Pitcher are currently on view in Casual China: Modernist Dinnerware.

-Kelli Fisher, Curatorial Intern

Sources:1. Carnegie Public Library. “Hall China Company, 1903 – Present.” Accessed June 30, 2020. https://www.carnegie.lib.oh.us/hall.2. Encyclopædia Britannica. “Art Deco.” Published May 28, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/art/Art-Deco.3. HLC Dinnerware. “History.” Accessed June 30, 2020. http://www.hlcdinnerware.com/about/history.4. Laurel Hollow Park. “Hall China Co.” Accessed July 7, 2020. http://www.laurelhollowpark.net/elo/hallchina.html.5. Novak, Matt. “The Great Depression and the Rise of the Refrigerator.” Pacific Standard Magazine. Published October 9, 2012. Updated June 14, 2017. https://psmag.com/environment/the-rise-of-the-refrigerator-47924.5. Rosenkrantz, Linda. “Hall Refrigerator Ware: from Fridge to Collector’s Shelf.” Published December 2, 2009. https://www.creators.com/read/contemporary-collectibles/12/09/hall-refrigerator-ware-from-fridge-to-collectors-shelf.6. The International Museum of Dinnerware Design. “Dining In Dining Out.” Published April 15, 2018. http://dinnerwaremuseum.org/main/index.php/dining-in-dining-out/.

Hall China Company, Westinghouse Refrigerator Pitcher, 1938, earthenware, 5 x 10½ x 5 inches, Everson Museum of Art; Gift of Mary and Paul Brandwein, 96.23.552.