A beautiful exhibit of more than 160 pieces of 1920’s and 30’s Central Kentucky Art Pottery opened at the Hopewell Museum on May 27. Titled Waco and the Bybees: Central Kentucky Art Pottery, 1900 to 1935, it’s the first-ever exhibit devoted to the art pottery of Cornelison Pottery, Waco Pottery and the Bybee Pottery Company lines of Genuine Bybee and Selden Bybee.
The exhibit, which continues until September 27, is funded in part by the Kentucky Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities. We surveyed more than 20 collectors and more than 1700 pieces to select the 160 examples we felt best represented the work of these potteries, said exhibit co-curator Margaret Layton. The pottery is valued for its design and complex glazes and becoming sought-after nationally, but is still sometimes unrecognized even in central Kentucky.
“It’s a gorgeous exhibit with pottery like I’ve never seen before,” said Hopewell Director Nancy Smith. “But it’s also a study of the potteries that created this art, a sociological study about the potteries place in the Appalachian Arts and Crafts Movement, and a study about potters shift from nineteenth century Kentucky stoneware to modern pottery.”
To put the exhibit into perspective, the only previous exhibit of this pottery, at the Speed Museum two years ago, featured 31 pieces of Central Kentucky Art Pottery from the 1920’s and 1930’s. The Hopewell exhibit has more than five times as many pieces.
The exhibit opening was a day-long “Waco and the Bybees Symposium” on May 30. The highlights of the day were longtime Bybee potter Harvey Conner and Lois Easterling, daughter of the last owner of the Waco Pottery, sharing their Memories of Waco and Bybee. Second most popular were the “Collector’s Panel” and “Show and Tell” when attendees shared pieces from their collections or sought identification of mystery pieces.
Harvey Conner came back on Sunday afternoon, July 12, to demonstrate pottery making. That afternoon the museum offered another “Show and Tell” so that people could have mystery pieces identified. And Harvey brought some of his prized pieces to show and tell about.
“It has been a great pleasure to recognize the artistry of the Madison County potters of almost a century ago,” said Hackley. “With recognition, we believe the Central Kentucky Art pottery will emerge to take its place with the likes of Weller, Roseville, Fulper, Teco, and, some would say, even Rookwood.” Hackley, an internationally known folk art dealer, is a former Kentucky State University ceramics and design instructor, a potter, and collector of Kentucky pottery and he has a degree in sculpture and ceramics.
“This is a very special exhibit that is going to attract pottery lovers from across the United States to Paris this summer,” said Louisville pottery collector Kendall Scally. “Paris should be very proud of what is being done at the Hopewell,” he said.
The Hopewell Museum has reprinted a 1924 “Genuine Bybee” catalog and a 1927 “Selden Bybee” catalog in a “Waco and the Bybees Handbook” and will be selling copies of the 16 page handbook for $15. The two catalogs are filled with photos and model numbers of the two lines of potteries, so that collectors will have — for the first time — a reference handbook of forms that were made. Copies can be ordered at the Hopewell Museum website (www.hopewellmuseum.org), or by emailing email@example.com.
The Hopewell Museum is located at the corner of 8th and Pleasant Streets, Paris, KY (telephone: 859-987-7274) and is open Wednesday through Saturday, 12:00 noon until 5:00 p.m., Sunday, 2:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. and by appointment. Admission is $3.00 per adult and free for students, children and members.