Author tells Van Briggle story at History Center
Sharon Swint, an Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS) volunteer and co-author of a recent book on Van Briggle Pottery, spoke Jan. 12 about Artus Van
Briggle's legacy - including the direct line between his original pottery and the current business in the old Midland Roundhouse building.
More than 30 people trudged through snow and near-zero temperatures to attend the hour-long presentation in the OCCHS' History Center.
Swint wrote the book, titled “The Story Behind the Clay - A Comprehensive Guide to Commissioned Van Briggle Specialty Pieces,” with her son David. She said the research project had its origins years ago when she developed an appreciation for early Van Briggle pieces and bought some of them. “But we were soon priced out of the market,” she lamented.
In the process, she ran across Van Briggle pieces with names and dates that were obscure, and this intrigued her and her son even more. “Along the way, we forgot if we were collectors or historians,” she commented.
Illustrating her story with old photos, Swint explained how 30-year-old Artus Van Briggle came to Colorado Springs in 1899 in the (vain) hope of beating the tuberculosis he had contracted while studying in Europe. Between then and his death in 1904, he and his wife Anne established the pottery business and he became internationally known for his creative glazes. He also was closely involved with many individuals and groups in Colorado Springs: “He became our potter,” Swint said.
In 1908, Anne built the Van Briggle Memorial Pottery building near Colorado College (still standing and now owned by the college) to continue producing pieces using Artus's styles and formulas. But prosperity was elusive. Eventually Anne left, and the business wound up being sold to the highest bidder.
From 1915 on, there have been just three sets of owners: Charles B. Lansing, from 1915 to 1920; the Lewis brothers, from 1920 to 1969; and the Stevenson family, since 1969.
Kenneth Stevenson had been the bookeeper for the Lewis brothers. His purchase followed the 1968 consolidation of all operations at the roundhouse. The move from the Memorial Pottery building was triggered by concerns in the 1950s that the planned I-25 might run right through the property it was on.
The roundhouse had ceased being used for its original purpose because the Midland railway shut down in 1949.
Stevenson ran Van Briggle until his death in 1990, and the business is now in the hands of his wife Bertha and son Craig. The duo announced this year that they are looking for a new location, but in the meantime the business continues at the roundhouse, Swint said.
Over the years, the levels of creativity at the pottery have ebbed and flowed, the Swints' book notes, but all in all, Sharon Swint told her audience, “I think Artus Van Briggle would be happy today to see what Bertha and Craig have done to keep the pottery alive.”
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