Founded in Louisville, Kentucky, in the 1880s, J.A. Bauer Pottery originally specialized in containers for the most popular of local products… whiskey. Manufacturing stoneware crocks and bottles, John Andy Bauer built his business on traditional earthenware techniques, thick and sturdy liquor, and water jugs which were meant to follow function more than form. It wasn’t until Bauer relocated to Los Angeles in 1909 that his innate creativity began to take root. Arriving just as a collective of artists were in the midst of dreaming up Arts and Crafts style, Bauer would eventually become one of the most important designers amid a vital American design movement. Inspired by the weather, light and lifestyle of his new Southern California home, Bauer began designing simple and beautiful garden pieces and dinnerware – vibrant and original in both their form and playful, primary coloring.
After Bauer’s death in 1923, the company has continued to thrive under the guidance of several imaginative design directors, among them Louis Ipsen, who created the hugely successful “Ringware” line in the 1930s. Ringware was manufactured with a concentric circle ceramic technique which enabled the company to mass produce sturdy, inexpensive pieces – and which also happened to look great. Ipsen also took Bauer’s original explorations in coloring and ran, offering the Ringware pieces in a huge assortment of hues – my favorites are a pale, delicate turquoise, the color of backyard pool at midday, and the roaring, gutsy orange of a Southern California sun.
This was more than merely kitchenware, it was a spit in the face of the grey shades of the Great Depression – the company bringing a rainbow of color into a world of drabness. Today, Bauer is hugely collectable for good reason (the company closed in 1962); these are designs whose simplicity defies fads and whose durability beats most ceramics manufactured today.