March is Women's History Month. The first pottery company in America that was founded and managed by a woman played a significant part in the remodeling of West Baden Springs Hotel in 1917.
Hotel owner, Lillian Sinclair was remodeling the hotel in a Greco-Italian theme when she commissioned RookwoodPottery of Cincinnati, Ohio to construct a pottery façade for the massive brick fireplace located in the atrium. Rookwood founder and owner Maria Longworth Nichols Storer had taken years to perfect her American art pottery techniques and her pottery was as functional as it was beautiful. By the turn of the twentieth century, Storer had added “architectural pottery” to her company’s portfolio; perfect for what Sinclair had in mind.
|Rookwood Pottery at Carew Tower|
William Watts Taylor oversaw Rookwood’s manufacturing of fireplace pottery pieces. The custom designs and installations became derigueur and requests came pouring in from not only Cincinnati, (Carew Tower and Union Terminal are just two examples.) but also from the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, and in New York City where Rookwood fireplace surrounds adorned the Vanderbilt Hotel, Lord & Taylor, and Grand Central Station.
Lillian Sinclair knew that a custom Rookwood fireplace would be the crowning touch to the new look. She requested a pictorial scene of Springs Valley showing Sprudel, the gnome, featured prominently on the surround, along with an image of the hotel.
|Guests Relax in Front of Rookwood Fireplace|
The entire surround measures 19-feet long and 11-feet high. A branching catalpa tree drapes across the front of the fireplace opening. On the left of the surround, Sprudel sits near a waterfall of healing mineral water; in his hand he holds a ram’s horn full of water and watches over the atrium. On the right side, the hotel can be see off in the distance.
|Details of Plants|
The fireplace is believed to be the largest that Rookwood ever built, and the surround is estimated to be worth anywhere from $250,000 - $500,000. But hotel management and staff say the surround is such a stunning addition to the atrium that it is simply irreplaceable.
Now, you can take home your own piece of West Baden with a Rookwood Pottery tile from the West Baden Mercantile Shop, located in the hotel. The tiles highlight four well known images from the fireplace including the hotel's domed exterior and Sprudel, the water gnome. A brief history of the hotel can be found on the back of each tile, which comes in sepia or gray.
|Commemorative Tile Concept Drawing|