Charles Phoenix's Slide of the Week: California Pottery, West Covina, 1960

Charles Phoenix’s Slide of the Week: California Pottery, West Covina, 1960

california pottery

A deadpan doll anchored by twisted crepe paper is the centerpiece of a little West Covina girl’s birthday party table. The doll has a yarn ’fro. The little girl wears Bette Page bangs and a bow on top of her head. Cupcakes, each with a single candle, are served. A yellow chrome dinette set and California Pottery, displayed in a classic mid-century modern china cabinet, make a colorful and stylish backdrop. The dishes were manufactured by Metlox and Free Form is the name of the spectacular futuristic pattern.

Pottery production began in Southern California in the early 1900s. By the ’40s the colorful dishes and decorative knick-knacks from local manufacturers such as Metlox, were a common sight in homes all over the Unites States. Due to restrictions on imports during World War II, the pottery business flourished and by the late ’40s there were more than eight hundred pottery manufacturers in Southern California. After the war, when import restrictions were lifted, a flood of imports from Japan and Italy flooded the market. By the late ’50s many pottery factories were unable to compete with the lower-cost imports and shut their doors.

Back in the mid ’80s I was lucky enough to score a Free Form plate on a thrift shopping spree in Pomona. How exciting! The space age motif inspired my imagination and made my spirit soar. Over the last twenty years I’ve eaten off of it a zillion times. Of all my mismatched dinner plates it’s always been my favorite.

A few weeks ago I decided to treat myself to a cleaning lady. Why should I be mopping the floor and scrubbing the toilet when I have stacks of slides to sort? A few days later she was doing the dishes in the kitchen and I was gasping away at vintage slides in the living room when all of the sudden – a crash-bang-crackle like I’ve never heard before. I rushed in the kitchen to investigate and there it was – my cherished Free Form plate by Metlox, shattered on the floor in a hundred pieces. “It just s-s-s-slipped out of my h-h-h-hand” she sobbed. There is now one less Free Form dinner plate in the world.

Cheers to you and California Pottery!

Charles Phoenix

P.S. California Pottery: From Missions to Modernism by Bill Stern is a great read!

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