Museum Mysteries: Intertwined Hands
Whose hands are these?
Artus Van Briggle lived in Colorado Springs for only five years, but he left an indelible mark on our city’s history. “Van,” as he was commonly known, came to our city suffering from tuberculosis, and like many consumptives, sought a cure here. He was already a respected artist before his arrival, but his true claim to fame came from rediscovering the Chinese “dead glaze” which gives a matte finish to pottery. This type of finish had been lost to history since the Ming Dynasty. Combined with Colorado’s natural clay and vibrant colors, Van’s pottery became almost instantly famous due to the influence of his stockholders and benefactors, including city founder General William Jackson Palmer and mining magnate Winfield Scott Stratton along with Mrs. Bellamy Storer, who sent him to Paris to study and remained his connection after she moved to Spain, and Professor William Streiby, who gave him laboratory space at The Colorado College where he perfected his glaze.
After discovering his glaze, Van Briggle worked almost day and night until he had accumulated 300 pots, after which he held an art exhibit that was so successful that all the pieces sold within just a few days. With the increase in fame and capital, Van Briggle enlarged his pottery and studio. Even with the improvements in production, it was difficult for him to keep up with the demand. The process he used required firing the kilns almost 24 hours a day, with someone watching the process most of the time. Experimental batches might yield only two or three successful pieces. These long hours were draining to Van as his tuberculosis advanced. His business was skyrocketing, but his health was plummeting.
After meeting Anne Gregory while studying in Paris, Van married her in 1902 after she had taken the position of Superintendent of Art at Colorado Springs High School. It was a match both in hearts and in business, because Anne dedicated herself to the arduous task of watching the kilns as they turned out pottery with colors that would become Van Briggle trademarks: “the deep blues and purples of the mountains, the turquoise of the sky, the greens of summer, and the tawny roses of the plains” (Here Lies Colorado Springs). His biographer, Dorothy Bogue, wrote, “He captured and made permanent the colors of the Colorado sky.”
The next two years were very busy as the Van Briggle Pottery received international acclaim at the 1903 Paris Salon and the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. With his health declining even further, Artus Van Briggle died from tuberculosis that same year at the age of 35. Anne continued her husband’s legacy until she left the company in 1912. She passed away in 1929.
Van Briggle art pottery can be found in collections all over the world, and Van’s techniques are still practiced today. The intertwined hands seen above are casted from Anne and Van, displaying their love for each other as well as their love of art and sculpture.
Come down to the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum to see the amazing display of Van Briggle pottery in the “From Paris to the Plains: Van Briggle Pottery” display. It’s free, and it’s worth the trip.
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