Several generations of the Rhead family were designers and art directors to important potteries in Stoke-on-Trent and in the United States of America. Frederick Hurten Rhead left for America in 1902 where he joined the Roseville Pottery and, after a variety of posts, he worked for the Homer Laughlin China Company. He is chiefly remembered for his work with tuberculosis patients at the Arequipa Pottery and for designing the Fiesta range of tableware.
Frederick Hurten Rhead was born at Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, on 29 August 1880, the eldest son of Frederick Alfred Rhead a pottery designer who became a leading figure in the English pottery industry, and his wife, Adolphine. She was the daughter of the Minton artist, CF Hurten. Fred’s uncles Louis, who worked mainly in the USA, and George were both artists and illustrators. His brother, Harry, and sisters, Charlotte and Dollie, also joined the pottery industry. Harry, who worked in the United States, and Charlotte Rhead both became notable pottery designers.
Fred Rhead attended junior school in Burslem, Hanley high school, the Wedgwood Institute in Burslem and the Stoke-on-Trent Government Art School. He was apprenticed, with his younger brother Harry, working under their father at Brownfields Pottery, Burslem, for five years. In 1899 Fred became art director to the small Hanley pottery of Wardle & Co for three years and he also helped his father to set up a studio pottery for Wileman & Co, in Longton.
Fred Rhead moved to the United States in 1902, where he worked as a designer for a number of art potteries, notably the Weller Pottery and the Roseville Pottery, both at Zanesville, Ohio. Fred’s early art pottery employed the he multi-coloured slips, low-relief carving and modelling which were typical Staffordshire techniques.
For three years at St Louis, Fred Rhead worked with Taxile Doat (1851-1938). Doat was a Frenchman, trained at Sevres, who became Director of the University City Pottery, which was run by the American Woman’s University. Fred was an instructor in pottery at the People’s University which mainly operated through correspondence courses – Fred created a pottery course for them in 1910.
Rhead moved to San Francisco, California, to become director of the Arequipa Pottery. This philanthropic project (1911-1918) provided occupational therapy and the means to earn a living for young women who had suffered from tuberculosis after the San Francisco Earthquake. In the difficult economic climate of 1906-1913, the pottery struggled to survive. Unfortunately Fred’s business acumen was not equal to his artistic skills and in 1913 his resignation was accepted. He soon started his own studio pottery, Rhead Pottery, in Santa Barbara, California, but closed it in 1917.
After his California period, Fred Rhead worked for large commercial potteries, first as research director for the American Encaustic Tiling Company (Aetco), at Zanesville, Ohio. Along with Leon Solon (Fred’s father had assisted Leon’s father, Louis Marc Solon, at Minton’s), Fred designed tiles in the Arts & Crafts style. Also working in the research department were George Stanberry, Harry Lillibridge and G. Lawton Gonder.
From 1927, Rhead was art director for the Homer Laughlin China Company, of Newell, West Virginia, where he created the art deco Fiesta range, which is still popular today. Fiesta was designed to be affordable, everyday tableware in mass production – a far cry from studio pottery, though the stylish shapes and colours owe something to that movement. The pieces have clean, flowing lines, accentuated by a simple decoration in the form of concentric circles. A notable feature is the deep, single-colour glaze, which may be yellow, red, blue, green, black, cream or turquoise. The manner in which the glazes are applied emphasises the motif.
In America, Frederick Hurten Rhead also worked for Vance-Avon, the Welvis Pottery and the Steiger Pottery. Fred was a forthright critic and writer on pottery and design. As spokesman for the Art and Design division of the American Ceramic Society, he had some national influence on the design of mass-produced ceramic tableware. Fred Rhead died in New York on 2 November 1942.