Catalina Island Pottery Collection

The cover illustration shows the Catalina Clay Pottery Factory in its heyday on Santa Catalina.Island, 1933, painted by Walter Speck (1896-1979) watercolor and pencil on paper, 11" x 15"[original in SCIF archives. Bill Stern Collection]

Catalina Island Pottery, set up by the Wrigley family to provide employment to the inhabitants of their privately-owned island, swiftly became perhaps the first among equals of the groundbreaking California potteries that were part of the explosion of creativity we call the Golden Age of California Design. Their wares sold like hotcakes and just as avidly collected today.

The history of tile and pottery manufacturing on the island begins with the discovery of clay and mineral oxides necessary for pottery production while drilling for freshwater wells. The island company imported machinery to Pebbly Beach, a short drive from Avalon. It used clay from multiple island sources to create early brick and tile products. The earliest pottery pieces were produced in 1927 as novelty items, tiles, plaques, and bookends featuring Catalina wildlife and Mexican themes. By 1928, some of the things were sold on the California mainland. 1928 also marked the first year that tiles were glazed. The Catalina Clay Products Company was spun off from the original tile factory (1928-32) and operated from 1930-36.

As was common with most pottery companies during the period, several skilled artisans and craftsmen were employed, often hopping from one company to another. All the companies benefited from sharing information and innovation, but very little information about who worked where and when has been documented. We know the Catalina plant supervisor, DM Renton, recruited ceramists from Pacific Pottery in 1928. The blended glazes seen on Pacific pieces during that period appear on Catalina pottery vases, oil jars, and other decorative ware. At the start of the Great Depression, the Catalina tileworks scaled back to a skeleton crew. One of the former Pacific ceramicists, Harold Johnson, left Catalina for Bauer, helping them design and launch their new California Colored Pottery line.

At the factory, the Chicago Cubs horse around during Spring training on the island.

At the Catalina store.