Object of the Week: Vase by Niloak Pottery Company

The Eagle Pottery Company of Benton, Arkansas produced Niloak Pottery in the first few decades of the twentieth century. Eagle Pottery grew out of Hyten Brothers Pottery, which formed in 1895 through a partnership between Charles Hyten and several of his brothers. In 1901, Hyten formed a new partnership with Alfred Warren and renamed his business the Eagle Pottery Company. Eight years later, Eagle Pottery hired ceramist Arthur Dovey and began producing the first works in a new product line named Niloak Pottery. Sales of the new work boomed, and Eagle Pottery subsequently formed the Niloak Pottery Company, a branch solely dedicated to producing the Niloak line. Hyten and Dovey named their product line after the locally sourced kaolin clay used in production, spelling “kaolin” backwards to get “Niloak.” The line included everything from vases to penholders, creamers to candlesticks, and for a limited time, special order production tile, all produced in the highly collectible Mission Swirl design. Sales rapidly increased throughout the 1910s and 1920s as interest in art pottery expanded across the United States and then declined sharply in the next two decades due to the Great Depression and the company’s focus on fulfilling government contracts. Niloak Pottery Company was dissolved in 1947. The Mission Swirl design results from layering together different colors of clay, a technique that originated in Japan and for centuries was known as both Neriage and Nerikomi. To create their own unique swirl design, Niloak Pottery began with three of the naturally colored local clays, cream, brown, and gray, and then added chemicals to the clay to create reds, whites, and blues. Craftspeople then pressed together layers of different colors into large blocks and sliced off thin sheets of the layered clay, which they then pressed into a mold. After removing the work from the mold and letting it air dry, it was fired. Niloak Pottery was unique in that it was not decorated, carved, or glazed. The forms were plain and simplistic in order to focus attention on the Mission Swirl design. This Niloak Pottery Vase was likely made between 1909 and 1934. A Niloak Pottery Company catalog from 1913 lists a vase of a similar pattern and design selling for between $2.00 and $6.00 depending on its size. Vase is currently on view in Socially Gifted: 75 Years of Gifts from the Social Art Club through June 30, 2019.

-Alexis Dygert, Curatorial Intern, and Steffi Chappell, Curatorial Assistant

Niloak Pottery Company, Vase, ca. 1909-1934, earthenware, 12 x 7 inches, Everson Museum of Art; Gift of the Social Art Club, 86.8