You either love ’em or you don’t. I have yet to meet anyone who has a middle of the road opinion about Conover pots, but everyone sure seems to know about them. Many people purchased from Potter & Mellen on Carnegie Avenue when they had the windows filled with pots and the price back then was $500. Others received them as a gift or inherited from a family member. This is an introduction for those new to Conover pots.
Claude Conover (1907-1994) was a Cleveland ceramicist and 1983 Cleveland Arts Prize winner who devoted himself to the medium of stoneware in the 1960’s, turning out about 250 objects a year from his home studio. Self-taught in the medium and maintaining a rigorous work schedule, he constructed stoneware slabs into pots of various sizes and shapes, each with a unique pattern created by hand-made rollers and blades, sometimes finished with clay slip. Most are monochromatic in beige and tan, some with two colors. The pots range in size from stacked constructions and tall cylinders of approximately 37” down to table top vases, bowls and sculptural cats of 4”. The vessels were grouped and displayed at ground level, often decorated with branches, willow branches and dried money plants inserted into the clear plastic inserts that are typically missing today. All of his pots have his signature underneath and each piece titled with a unique name.
There are dealers for his work from coast to coast and Cleveland is home to some of the best pottery found. Savvy buyers with a keen eye for MCM before it became a design trend, were able to buy these pots for a tenth of what they sell for today. Sales data on Askart.com shows his ceramic pots peaked in 2010 and again between 2017 and 2018. However the highest recorded price at auction was in 2015 for $37,220.00 at an auction house in Paris. Many of the pots I’ve encountered were acquired by the baby-boomer generation who had no idea how collectable and desired these stoneware vessels are today. When told about the value, many people will part ways with it, and I’ve meet others who are not quite ready to let go. The Gen Xers seem to be the most keen on buying a Conover pots. Being of this generation myself, I find these pots invoke my youth; the colors and shapes of 60’s decorative arts. We are however seeing the most interest in ownership by young professionals interested in decorated in the MCM style who are looking for timeless pieces.
Conovers’ work may be found in fifteen public collections; our beloved Cleveland Museum of Art has five in it’s permanent collection. Most Conover pots are found at auction where the bidding is competitive. Rarely are they found at estate sales anymore because most look up the artist on the internet. Once they’re over the sticker-shock of retail prices, people tend to reach out to a credible local dealer or auction house to bring their Conover pot to the world market. At Neue Auctions we are offering a few in the up-coming May Fine Art and Antiques auction. We invite you to visit the gallery and tell us about your Conover pot and the story of how you came to own it, what it may be worth now, and the opportunities to sell or insure it for future generations to enjoy.
APRIL 14, 2019/BY CYNTHIA MACIEJEWSKI