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The Cowan Pottery museum’s unusual location largely takes people by surprise – on an unassuming suburban street corner within the Rocky River Public Library, west of Cleveland, Ohio. The museum has called the library “home” since acquiring a large collection of ceramic art in 1978. A major renovation was completed in in 2007, which gave the Cowan Pottery Museum ample display space to exhibit the collection that has grown to over 1300 pieces. 

Jazz Bowl - designed by Viktor Shreckengost

Tableware, Drinkware, Dishware, Blue

R Guy Cowan

Outerwear, Sleeve, Gesture, Collar

Flower jars were popular items created by Cowan Pottery Studio

Photograph, White, Serveware, Cooking

Cowan Pottery display

Serveware, Sculpture, Dishware, Art

R. (Reginald) Guy Cowan was born in 1884 in East Liverpool, Ohio, once known as the “Pottery Capital of the World”. In 1908, he moved to Cleveland and began teaching high school ceramics on the city’s East side and established a pottery studio on Euclid and E. 107  Street. Four years later, Cowan quit teaching and moved his studio west to Lakewood, Ohio and called it Cleveland Pottery and Tile Company. This was a short-lived venture as Cowan joined the army and closed his studio while he served in World War I from 1917-1919. When he returned to Lakewood after the war, he found that the gas well that fired the kilns had dried up, so he set out to find another spot for his pottery business. He found new property with a working gas well in Rocky River in front of the railroad tracks on Lake Road, which was ideal for shipping and receiving, and called it Cowan Pottery Studio. The property contained nine kilns and ten separate buildings for different stages of manufacture and a small house that provided the space for a showroom.

By the mid-twenties, Cowan Pottery Studio had created an extensive line of commercial pottery that comprised the highest standard of artistic excellence. Vases, candlesticks, lamps, console sets, and candy dishes were sold at U.S. department stores such as Marshall Field in Chicago, Wanamaker’s of Philadelphia, Ovington of New York, and Halle’s in Cleveland, Ohio. Pottery staff had grown to 35 people producing 175,000 pieces a year, including limited edition sculptures, by 1928. Artists like Viktor Schreckengost, Waylande Gregory, and Margaret Postgate had all been associated with the studio at this time and helped American ceramic art expand its notoriety across the globe. 

 The onset of the Depression saw dealers decreasing orders and customers not willing to spend money frivolously and the studio began to lose revenue. Cowan Pottery went into bankruptcy in 1930, but managed to hold on until December of 1931, at which time the inventory was sold to a local department store. Guy Cowan stayed in Cleveland for a few more years, working for the Ferro Corporation (industrial ceramics), but moved to Syracuse, New York in 1933 to work for Onondaga China (later, Syracuse China). R. Guy Cowan died in 1957 while on vacation in Arizona and is buried in Rocky River, the place where his greatest success had begun.

In the 1960s, many Cowan Pottery pieces became known as exceptional examples of Art Deco style and the company became known for linking the Arts and Crafts movement of the early twentieth century to the modernist era of the mid-twentieth century. In 1978, Rocky River Public Library acquired over 800 pieces of Cowan pottery, where only a small portion could be displayed at any time. After a major renovation in 2007, the Cowan Pottery Museum inside the Rocky River Public Library can display 40 percent of the collection, which now exceeds 1,300 pieces.

Rocky River Public Library. Library Timeline, Rocky River Public Library. Accessed September 27th 2021.

Keane, Maribeth. Cowan Pottery of the Art Deco Era, Collector's Weekly. April 15th 2009. Accessed November 6th 2021.

Cowan Pottery. A Brief History of R. Guy Cowan, Cowan Pottery Museum Associates. Accessed November 6th 2021.

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