By Melissa Cole, Curator
From 1925 to 1949, Oshawa was home to the largest makers of hand-painted pottery in Canada, as well as the only artware pottery in the Dominion of Canada. The company was called Smith Potteries, and to learn more about this company, please read this previous post on the blog: https://oshawamuseum.wordpress.com/2018/10/26/artefacts-oshawas-smith-potteries/
I am interested in learning more about Smith Potteries and to discover more about the “specialized pottery” made here in Oshawa. When I started at the Oshawa Museum in 2000, there were two pieces in the collection. This collection has grown to 37 pieces. Some of the acquired pieces have travelled back to Oshawa from as far away as the United Kingdom, purchased by visitors to the area as a memento of their time in Oshawa.
Smith Potteries’s production of a specialized semi-porcelain pottery, also known as white ware, made this company competitively successful with other countries, such as the United States, China, Great Britain, Japan, Germany, Sweden and Czechoslovakia. The white ware pottery was resilient and of fine quality.
Recently, the newspaper collection at the Oshawa Public Libraries was digitized and made available online. In the August 15, 1929 edition of The Oshawa Daily Times, there was an article titled, Substantial Industry Being Developed Just Outside City by H. Smith Potteries, which discussed a new two-storey addition and expansion of the business. The addition included a modern office, shipping and receiving room, and the second floor was used solely as the finishing room. The market term for wares created by Smith were known as “Velta Art Pottery.”
The article continues to describe the raw material used to produce these fine pieces. They are made with china clay [Kaolin], feldspar, and flint. These ingredients were carefully combined, strained through a screen to remove any impurities and stirred in a large mixer. The moulds were constructed of plaster, into which the liquid china was poured, and any remaining liquid was poured off. The moulds were placed in a warm oven where the heat shrank the pottery, allowing it to be separated from the mould. The pieces were then removed from the oven and mould and left to air dry. Once dry, the piece was placed in a kiln and subjected to a temperature of 2250 degrees for 24 hours, in a process called firing.
The article continues
Probably the most interesting phase is the finishing or painting of the article. In the H. Smith Potteries this is accomplished in a large bright room by five expert artists. Various designs are employed but each piece is hand painted. The colour schemes and designs are first planned by a talented designer… The articles are delicately shaped and tinted in exquisite colours. All the pieces including the lamp shades are designed right in Oshawa.
It is through this process that makes each piece held in the Oshawa Museum collection unique because they were all individually hand painted. Smith Potteries produced a range of products such as vases, bowls, candlesticks, lamp bases, ashtrays, and other souvenir novelties with hand painted designs.
The article also mentioned that the firm was in the process of manufacturing bases for the desk fountain pen sets for the Parker Duofold Co. This company is still around today under the name, The Parker Pen.
The Oshawa Museum is always looking to add more pieces made by Smith Potteries to the collection. If you have a piece of Smith Potteries that you are interested in donating, reach out to me through email firstname.lastname@example.org