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Keeping American Porcelain in the States

By John Christopher Fine
Epoch Times Staff
Created: February 7, 2013 Last Updated: March 19, 2013
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Boehm master artist Nereida Saganowski demonstrates how to make petals in porcelain. (Myriam Moran copyright 2013)

Boehm master artist Nereida Saganowski demonstrates how to make petals in porcelain. (Myriam Moran copyright 2013)

Porcelain in the United States has had a long and honored, if overlooked, history. The year 1770 is generally accepted as the beginning of porcelain production in the United States, in the cities of New York, Trenton, N.J., Philadelphia, and East Liverpool, Ohio. The manufacture of porcelain was a challenge for colonists, who in the early stages borrowed heavily from English and then Asian forms. Today, American porcelain has a unique style and a loyal following among collectors and appreciators.

Fine art collectibles company Pascoe, which specializes in porcelain and ceramic arts, recently added Boehm Porcelain to is representation. It is a partnership between two quintessentially American porcelain companies.

“It is a true pleasure to work with Ed Pascoe on featuring Boehm Porcelain around the world not only because it is an American icon but because Ed understands the finesse, the beauty, and the passion it takes to create sculpture that is magnificent in its intricacy and handcraftsmanship,” said Boehm owners Sharon Lee Parker and George Parker in an email statement. “Ed Pascoe and his extremely knowledgeable staff understand the importance of continuing to produce in the United States of America and keeping our artisans busy working.”

Saving Boehm Porcelain

Parker and his wife Sharon Lee saved the Boehm Porcelain Company in Trenton in 2010. Sharon Lee, who was diagnosed with cancer, depended on the dedicated care of her doctor, who worked in Texas.

“Then my doctor transferred to Hackensack and I went there to continue treatment,” Sharon Lee said. “I love Boehm porcelains. I stopped by the factory in Trenton to buy my doctor a porcelain rose. They were closing the company. It was going to be sold and moved to China.”

Instead of feeling defeated by her cancer or the demise of her beloved porcelain maker, she decided with her husband to save the company.

“When we bought the company three years ago they were $800,000 in debt,” Parker said. “In the first year I cut that in half. In the second year I cut it in half again. In the third year we are even and going to begin making a profit.”

He is justly proud of his hands-on management of the company.

Sharon Lee Parker with Boehm porcelain flowers. (Courtesy of Boehm)

Sharon Lee Parker with Boehm porcelain flowers. (Courtesy of Boehm)

“This is the last American porcelain company,” he said. “There were more than a hundred in Trenton. Now there are two. One makes insulators for telephone poles.”

That the Parkers saved an American icon and preserved American jobs is a tribute to their deep loyalty to the ideal of liberty and free enterprise. A Boehm porcelain American eagle and flag is on display in the White House.

A Surviving Art

We met Boehm master artist Nereida Saganowski at a major exhibit and sale at the West Palm Beach Hilton Hotel, in Florida, in January. Offering classes in petal making at the Boehm display, the 30-year veteran at Boehm, has been making porcelain for 47 years. Her first piece was a bridal rose. It remains one of Boehm’s most popular gifts.

“We get the clay from England,” Saganowski said as her deft fingers dipped into a bowl of water and formed a rose petal. “Visitors to the show take the petals they make with them. They haven’t been fired so they will crack,” she said, offering instruction to anyone interested in the art form.

Seeing just the first stage in creating porcelain works of art gives the observer a sense of how specialized and labor intensive this work is.

“It takes 19 hours just to get the kilns to the right temperature,” Parker explained. “The objects ‘soak’ at that temperature for two hours. Then the temperature goes down. If you open the door the cool air will cause the object to crack.”

Pascoe

Founded in 1971 by Ed Pascoe, Pascoe & Company is known as the leading dealer of current and retired Royal Doulton collectibles in the world. Pascoe’s journey to success is one of great serendipity.

“I started buying porcelains in Philadelphia in 1970. I was in high school,” he said. “I had an antique business selling Wedgewood and Royal Doulton. My aunt collected antiques so I went to antique shows with her. It was more fun to buy and sell than to collect,” Ed Pascoe said.

Then he began to make trips between England and the United States. When he was 25, he kept his own shop at 1122 Madison Ave. in Manhattan until 1987 when he moved to Miami Beach.

While Royal Doulton has played a huge part in his company’s success, the markets have changed.

“The new Royal Doulton, made in Asia, makes up hardly any of our business, now that the quality has gone down,” Pascoe said. “We specialize in older pieces made in England.”

Adding Boehm to his company’s offerings is another small milestone in American ceramics.

“We are very impressed that Sharon Lee Parker has been able to continue the production of Boehm porcelain in the USA,” Pascoe said. “The worldwide trend in the ceramic industry is outsourcing to Asia so Sharon’s achievement is truly remarkable. Boehm is a rare survivor from America’s proud tradition of porcelain manufacturing and it is wonderful to see the exceptional skills of their modelers, painters and flower makers being appreciated once again.”

Dr. John Christopher Fine is the author of 24 books on a variety of subjects. His articles and photography appear in major magazines and newspapers in the United States and Europe.

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