In the fall of 1927 John Frank left his home town of Chicago to accept a position at the University of Oklahoma as a professor of art and pottery. It had been his life long dream to be a college professor, but fate was about to step in.
Soon after his arrival he met and befriended a group of geology professors exploring the possible uses for the high quality clay of the region. In the color and composition of the beautiful clay of Oklahoma, Frank saw the potential for creating a unique new form of fine art pottery. Unlike the work of Roseville, Well and Van Briggle, the leading potters of the day, Frank envisioned a pottery that represented the beauty and colors of the great American Southwest..
Equipped with one small kiln, a fruit jar for grinding glazes and a butter churn for mixing clay, John and his wife Grace began to experiment with local clay samples. Success was not to be come by easy, but in 1933 they opened a small studio in Norman, Okla. and named it “Frank Potteries.”
His first steps into business were small ones, operating the pottery studio at night while still retaining his professorship at the university by day. But the company grew and within five years Frank left teaching and, with his wife, opened a larger studio in Sapupla, Okla.
With the new studio came a new name for the company. Combining his name with the name of the state that had become his artistic inspiration he formed his company which from that time forward has been called “Frankoma.”
The earliest efforts, from the mid-1930s through 1950s, are marked with a “pacing leopard.” The face of Frankoma was forever changed in 1954, when during a dig near Sapulpa’s Sugar Loaf Hill, the Franks discovered a rich red clay. This would become a defining moment for Frankoma pottery, establishing its unique look and texture that closely mimics aged terra cotta.
The basic design theme for Frankoma pottery embraced traditional Native American art and the rugged beauty of the Great American Southwest. The colors reflected the colors of the prairie: greens, tans and sand. This green is not the “matte green” used in other popular American art pottery of the time. It is a distinctive olive green closer to the color of prairie grass. The tans and sand colors are exclusive to Frankoma as well. Other color glazes through the years include yellow, black, brown, flame, peach light blue, and white.
Using a manufacturing process unique to Frankoma pottery, the clay body and colored glaze are fused and fired. The clay body tempers as it cools resulting in a ceramic that is rugged and durable. This process is highly cost efficient, making Frankoma art pottery much more affordable to the masses than the works of many of their competitors.
Limited editions and all Southwestern-themed wares are increasingly collectible. Popular themes include political mugs, bicentennial plates, ceramic Christmas cards, wildlife, Bible plates and special editions such as those made for Oral Roberts University. Pitchers, candlesticks, salt and pepper shakers, trays and trivets, bun warmers, plaques and honey pots can be found as well.
John Frank died in 1973, passing the family business to his daughter Joniece. They continue today with the production of dinner ware and commemorative pieces. Unlike many collectibles that have decreased in quality with the passing of time, Frankoma pottery has held to its original standards of production. While collectors seek only vintage pieces, the new lines have found a steady customer base in those who appreciate the beauty and durability of this tribute to the great American Southwest.Until next time...Linda
Linda Kennett is a professional liquidation consultant specializing in down-sizing for seniors and the liquidation of estates and may be reached at 317-258-7835 or email@example.com.