The Early Years: 1927-1932
In 1927, the Catalina Island Pottery and Tile Factory was established by William Wrigley, Jr. as a practical endeavor to build the Island’s resort town of Avalon with bricks and roofing tiles made from local clay deposits, while also providing year-round work for its residents. In the early years, the factory developed molds and produced pottery pieces, which were made using the island’s native red clay. From late 1929, to about November of 1933, they produced pottery pieces #1 to #165, which were made primarily using the island’s native red clay. To add strength to the products, in 1932 white clay from the mainland was imported and combined with the island's red clay. Soon thereafter only white clay was used.
According to Carole Coates: "White clay was imported in later years but other than for molded pieces and dinnerware which required a fine slip, Island clay varied in color from deep brick red, to medium, brownish, and even buff light clay. Some of this was even mixed with mainland clay. The demise of the pottery came about much more because of the Depression than about the “cost” of importing white clay."
Glazes were made with local minerals mined on the Island. Some early colors were given island-related names such as Catalina Blue, Toyon Red and Descanso Green, in addition to Black, White, Mandarin Yellow (Manchu) and Monterey Brown.
One of the most rare of all the Catalina Pottery dinnerware pieces is the Tortilla Warmer with its raised design lid (10 inches wide x 3 inches tall). Only a handful are known to exist—one of which is in the Stern Collection.
The Middle Years: 1932-1937
In 1933, Detroit artist, Walter Speck (1896-1979), visited the island. Best known for his WPA mural, "Ford Riot", Speck was inspired to draw the Catalina Clay Products factory outside of Avalon. His signed watercolor is also in the Stern Collection.
The last price list was issued November 1, 1936. Colors were referred to by number:<br Catalina Blue (No. 1); Descanso Green (No. 2); Toyon Red (No. 3); Mandarin Yellow (No. 4); Monterey Brown (No. 5); Pearly White (No. 6); Turquoise (No. 7); Wine/Burgundy (No. 8); Flesh/Beige (No. 9); Powder Blue (No. 10); Colonial Yellow (No. 11); and Coral Island (No. 12). Toyon red glaze was always priced at an additional 10%.
The Catalina Gladding McBean Years: 1937-1942
In 1937, Catalina Clay Products, including all equipment, stock, molds, and trademarks, was sold by the Catalina Island Company to Gladding, McBean & Co. (est. 1875), and operations were moved to Glendale. All their pieces used white clay. They branched out into specialty line production and few molds from Catalina Clay Products were ever used. They bought the good name, Catalina, while eliminating a competitor.
Catalina-marked pieces, "Catalina Pottery," were produced for about five years. By February 1, 1941 Gladding-McBean & Co. segregated the entire line of tableware under the general name of Franciscan Ware and all art pottery under the name of Catalina Ware. A decade after Gladding, McBean & Co. acquired the molds and rights to the Catalina name, they ceased Catalina Ware production and returned the use of the trademark to the Santa Catalina Island Company as required by their original purchase.
Weil Ware: (1946-1955)
Max Weil began the California Figurine Company (1941-1946) during WWII. He may have been a former Gladding McBean employee, and he bought discontinued Catalina line molds from them around 1945. Thus some Catalina molds were used by multiple companies, hence the same shapes, but in different glazes and marks are found. Weil pieces are stamped with a logo that includes a burro, and are twice removed from Santa Catalina Island pottery. Weil died in 1954, and former Gladding McBean employees Frederick and Mary Grant took over his short-lived business, which closed in 1955.
TRANSCENDING PIECES: Precious few Catalina Clay Products molds transcended from Island to Gladding McBean and beyond. Few have been identified thus far.
- Santa Catalina Island Pottery: Island Red Clay (1927-1933)
- Santa Catalina Island Pottery: White Clay Imported (1932-1937)
- Transcending Pieces from Catalina Clay Products ("Island") to California Pottery (Gladding McBean) to Weil Ware (Max Weil (1945-1955)
Santa Catalina Island Pottery: Island Red Clay (1927-1933)
Santa Catalina Island Pottery: White Clay Imported (1932-1937)