The West Virginia Division of Culture and History will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Fiestaware with a gala reception on Thursday, March 31, at 6 p.m., for the opening of the exhibit Fiesta: 75th Anniversary, 1936 – 2011 at the Culture Center, State Capitol Complex, Charleston. Visitors can meet J. M. Wells, president of the Homer Laughlin China Company, and Elizabeth Mcllvain, executive vice president of the company; see a film about the company; and witness the presentation of special edition pieces to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. The event is free and open to the public.
Patrons also can purchase a limited edition, signed and numbered mini pitcher with the 75th anniversary logo of Fiesta in the West Virginia State Museum Shop for $17.95. TAMARACK: The Best of West Virginia, which operates the museum shop at the Culture Center, also will have mini pitchers available at its facility in Beckley. The disc pitchers will be for sale at both locations beginning at 6 p.m., on March 31. Quantities and colors are limited at each location. Some restrictions may apply.
The exhibit is on display in the Lobby Gallery where visitors can see the “Rainbow of Color,” consisting of two sizes of plates in an explosion of the vivid hues of Fiestaware, including all current colors. There will be vitrines with additional shades of Fiesta produced since it was introduced in 1936, including the five original colors: red, ivory, cobalt blue, yellow and green. The show also includes a selection of historic Homer Laughlin china showcasing some of the other designs and dinnerware produced by the company from the West Virginia State Museum Collection. One special vitrine in the exhibit will showcase prototypes of a special line of Fiesta created for the West Virginia Governor’s Mansion.
The exhibit celebrates the 75th anniversary of Fiesta Dinnerware. The china line was designed by Frederick Hurten Rhead, one of the world’s most distinguished ceramists, in 1936. It soon became the most successful line of china ever made in any factory. As originally designed, the line featured art deco styling and bold, bright colors. The product was discontinued in 1973 and reissued in 1986 with new contemporary colors to mark its 50th anniversary. Building on the success of Fiesta, the company began producing restaurant ware in 1959, and in 1995, it introduced Ameriwhite, which provides an enhanced impact resistant body that is finished in a high-fire abrasion-resistant mirror glaze that is 100% lead free.
The Homer Laughlin China Company is situated along the Ohio River in Newell, Hancock County. It traces its roots to 1872 when the city council of East Liverpool, Ohio, started a competition and offered $5,000 to anyone who built a four-kiln factory to manufacture white ware. Homer and Shakespeare Laughlin were the winners of the competition and they broke ground in 1873, opening in September of 1874. Homer bought out his brother in 1877 and in the 1880s he developed genuine American china, which when held to the light demonstrated a transparency that is an important component of true china. In 1897, Laughlin sold the company to W. E. Wells and Louis I. Aaron. On Jan. 1, 1907, the company opened Plant Four, across the river in Newell and was said to be the largest pottery plant ever constructed. In 2002, the Wells family acquired the company from the Aarons. Elizabeth Mcllvain is a fourth generation member of the Wells family.
For more information about Fiesta: 75th Anniversary, 1936 – 2011, contact Charles Morris, director of museums and exhibits manager for the Division, at (304) 558-0220.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History is an agency within the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts with Kay Goodwin, Cabinet Secretary. The Division, led by Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith, brings together the past, present and future through programs and services focusing on archives and history, arts, historic preservation and museums. For more information about the Division’s programs, events and sites, visit www.wvculture.org. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.