After reading the Fall 2008 issue of Modernism Magazine (which I highly suggest you scoop up) and learning about Teco Pottery, I felt compelled to share my newly acquired information with you. If you know nothing of Teco, then get ready for a fascinating education about the Arts and Crafts Movement medium that was modern before modern was a celebrated aesthetic.
Teco — a compound of the word Terra Cotta — was first introduced to the world via architecture. It was originally used on the facades of Chicago skyscrapers because it was cheap and provided good insulation. Why Chicago skyscrapers? Well, Teco was local and produced just outside of the Windy City, In Terracotta, Ill., where William D. Gates founded his Terra Cotta Tile Works company in 1881 and where Teco would go on to be produced for 30+ years.
Gates began experimenting with the Teco clay in hopes of creating functional and affordable pottery in line with the Arts & Crafts Movement. Using the geometric (Art Deco) designs created by architects of the Prarie School (Frank Lloyd Wright famously crafted a vase inspired by a skycraper and even built a Teco storefront specially designed to accentuate the pottery), Gates eventually crafted around 500 pieces of pottery. The first pieces of Teco were all glazed with dull browns and reds, but when Gates accidentally created a green glaze giving the pottery a patinaed finish, it stuck and went on to define the look of Teco. Unfortunately, Gates hung up his hat as a potter during the 1920s and Teco production was relegated to architectural materials. The craft’s relatively short lifespan makes Teco pottery very valuable and highly coveted.
Today, Teco pottery has made a quiet resurgence after Prarie Arts began producing authentic reproductions using the same materials popularized by Gates. However, noticeably missing is the grayish color/texture that speckles the original pots; this is due to the absence of lead in the glaze.
If you’re lucky enough to come across original Teco pottery, expect to pay a pretty penny. What originally sold for $25 dollars could probably go for hundreds today. And larger pieces are valued in the thousands. But if you still want to own a piece of art history, perhaps a Prarie Arts reproduction is the best (and cheaper) solution.