Who Killed American Kitsch?

Posted February 19th, 2012

Collectors, Kitsch, USA

Collectors Weekly has a little-known story about the growth and dominance of a U.S. manufacturing industry that got wiped out once Japan got back on its feet:

“For home-front America, World War II was a time of shared sacrifice, when people gave up simple pleasures to support those fighting overseas in the greatest struggle the civilized world had ever known. After the war, though, society breathed a collective sigh of relief and went out looking for a bit of fun.

One of the easiest things to do was to update one’s décor, as Donald-Brian Johnson discovered when he and co-author, Leslie Piña, began researching “Postwar Pop: Memorabilia of the Mid-20th Century,” which focuses on art pottery, paper goods, and holiday ephemera, and was published in 2011 by Schiffer. “During the war and immediately after it, foreign imports had been cut off, so all of these domestic art pottery firms sprang up,” Johnson says. “They were very successful until the early 1950s, when imports from Japan took over. By the time the ’60s rolled around, most of the U.S. firms were out of business.”

Coincidentally, some of the most influential figures in what Johnson calls postwar pop pottery were named Betty. Between 1941 and 1955, Betty Harrington designed nearly 1,000 different objects for Ceramic Arts Studio of Madison, Wisconsin. Beginning in 1943, Betty Cleminson and her husband, George, sold their homey and heartwarming work as The California Cleminsons. And Betty Lou Nichols, considered by Johnson to be the queen of head vases, began her career in 1945 in the backyard of her parents’ La Habra, California, home.

One of the first artists of the era to break into the ceramics figurine world was Hedi Schoop, who moved to Los Angeles from Switzerland with her husband, composer Frederick Hollander, and opened her business in 1940. “Schoop had been an actress,” says Johnson, “and was kind of dabbling in making dolls out of wax. One day somebody said to her, ‘Those dolls are really spectacular. If you could find a more permanent form for them, there’d probably be a market.’

Read on at Collectors Weekly