In the late 19th Century, a group of women in Boston came together to form what was to become the Saturday Evening Girls Club (S.E.G.). It would run as a group until 1969 and started as reading group for young immigrant women in Boston’s North End. The group met at the North Bennet Street Industrial School (NBSIS) , in Boston’s North End. At the time the area was economically and socially deprived. Financed by philanthropist Helen Storrow (1872-1932) and run by librarian Edith Guerrier (1870-1958) and her partner, artist Edith Brown (1872-1932), the club had the purpose of providing social and educational opportunities for women, and it soon became a popular gathering place for members of the local arts and crafts community. The club would later acquire a kiln and open a pottery which would on its move to the Old North Church, Boston would be named The Paul Revere Pottery, a name that has become synonymous with the American Arts and Craft movement.
Edith Guerrier a librarian and writer worked at the North End nursery and she was tasked with maintaining the school’s reading room, officially known as “Station W” of the Boston Public Library. She began a series of reading groups, one of which became very popular with the young women at the school, forming the foundation of what in 1901 became the Saturday Evening Girls’ Club. The club covered subjects ranging from music, literature, economics, job opportunities, and art. Through activities and group discussions, the S.E.G. provided social and intellectual stimulation for the young women, exposing them to an array of experience across religious, language, and ethnic divides.
In 1906, Guerrier and Brown visited Europe and were inspired by the folk work of peasant artisans and the designs of the Arts and Crafts movement. They had the idea to create a pottery to produce American peasant ware that would be created and sold by the Saturday Evening Girls Club to gain extra income for the girls.
We spoke of making marmalade, or fruitcake, of hemming napkins and dishtowels, and finally we spoke of pottery, of the charming peasant ware of Italy, of Holland, of Germany, and now of Switzerland. Since our club girls were almost all of peasant stock, why not start an art pottery and produce American peasant ware?
The group bought a kiln 1906 and in 1907 a small pottery was opened. The endeavour was successful, but was not fully supported by the North Bennet Street Industrial School. In 1908 funded by Helen Storrow the pottery moved to a new location when she bought a four-story brick building in Boston’s North End, located on Hull Street. The Library Club House, or Hull House as it was often called, was very near to the Old North Church. The iconic Old North Church church, was where Paul Revere had hung his lantern and inspired the name of the pottery to become the Paul Revere Pottery.
The pottery was more than an arts and crafts project designed to keep young women off the streets; it provided them with decent jobs. Working conditions at the pottery were better than the women could have expected elsewhere: they worked an eight-hour day and received a fair wage, daily hot lunches, and a yearly paid vacation. The pottery flourished for several decades, garnering national and international recognition through features in magazines, journals, and newsletters.
The pottery created was mainly utilitarian ware intended for everyday use and vases. The simple design subjects included farm animals, simple landscapes, houses and scenes from American folk art. More unusual designs included witches on broomsticks and windmills. Banded painting decoration was typical of the pottery and a few pieces featured all over decoration. The pottery used lots of soft and pastel colours and the finishes were a porous matte or a soft gloss.
Paul Revere Pottery continued to flourish for several decades, garnering national and international recognition through features in magazines, journals, and newsletters. At the height of its popularity in the 1910s, the pottery’s wares were sold in most major cities throughout the United States. It finally closed in 1942.
The sophisticated simplicity and colours of the pottery have made in popular among collectors. As pieces were designed for use many are found damaged making. Pieces with full decoration have more value and pieces using the Cuerda seca technique are always superior. Cuerda seca a Spanish term meaning “dry cord.” It refers to a painting technique used on ceramic pottery, in which lines are delineated using a dampened rope or cord dipped in paint. The design is then painted over with one or more colors, usually using a brush.
One of the most notable painters collected from the pottery is that of Sara Galner (1894-1982). Her designs and paintings on pottery have become very desirable and she holds some of the record for some of the highest prices paid at auction. She also went on to manage a Paul Revere Pottery shop in Washington, D.C.
The story of The Saturday Evening Girls Club and The Paul Revere Pottery is definitely a fascinating one. Please look at the related links below for further background on the pottery and the women who made it happen.
The Saturday Evening Girls Make Pottery History feature on New England Historical Society
Sara Galner, the Saturday Evening Girls, and the Paul Revere Pottery Selections from the Bloom Collection at Museum of Fine Arts in Boston
Ceramics from the Paul Revere Pottery at Museum of Fine Arts in Boston
A story in clay: Sara Galner and the Saturday Evening Girls from National Museum of American History