Search This Blog

Saturday, August 9, 2014


On my last day in West Virginia, on the way back to the Pittsburgh Airport actually, Jenny, her brother Jeff, his husband Mark and I all made a pilgrimage to the Homer Laughlin Factory in Newell, West Virginia. This is where Fiesta Ware is made.

The place is ancient-ish, built in 1877 and, apart from some of the machinery, it looks like everything's original — the windows (more than a few are boarded over), flooring, workbenches, cabinets and more. We weren’t permitted to take pics while on the factory tour which gave me a big ass sad — SO many potentially great shots of romantic dilapidation to be had!

Sadly, I couldn’t understand a word the tour guide said (no ASL 'terp) but I was able to take in a great deal from watching the workers. It was a real surprise that so much is done by hand. That is, the forms are made with a mold versus hand-built or thrown but they’re extruded or pressed not poured from a slurry-ish mix as I’d assumed. Handles and such are attached individually by ultra fast, precise worker bees. All of the other finishing is done manually too. I'd love to know more about the production methods — fascinating stuff!

The workers, for the most part, were all middle aged, heavyset, rough and downcast. This wasn't a pottery filled with shiny, new craft type kids working their first gig after scoring the BFA. Paula Pokrifki in a much grittier, dustier Officer and a Gentleman came to mind. I wonder how many of the Homer Laughlin artisans end up with White Lung, AKA Potter’s Rot, AKA Silicosis. I didn't see even one soul wearing a face-mask.

I could totes understand why they didn't want me taking snaps. Apart from the health concerns, it's just mind boggling that such precise, incredible stone beauty emerges from this rustic-ish set up.
The whole area around the joint, — set in the Allegheny Mountains with the Ohio River right outside — is magnificently beautiful. It's also incredibly poor and bleak.

West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the country with only Mississippi and Arkansas more impoverished. Newell isn’t the most destitute town in West Virginia — that distinction is held by any/every town in McDowell County.

Still the Estimated Median Household Income for Newell is around 28 Gs — $40,196 for the rest of the state and $75 grand in the Cheat Lake area where The Great Jones Extravaganza was held.

The downtown area is riddled with closed shops, dilapidated mobile homes, small, sad soot covered houses and gas stations. It’s depressed and depressing. The brilliantly beautiful, colorful pottery made at the Homer Laughlin Factory stands in wild, radical contrast.


  1. Here's a link for anyone inspired to take their own tour:

    1. Thanks Jeff! Anyone in or around the area should DEF go on the tour AND to the awesome seconds room.

  2. Thanks Donna for your story, So sad to read of its location.
    I started collecting original Fiesta ware back in 1980. I love the colors. I have about 350 piece collection. It was introduced at the 1939 New York Worlds Fair. I have a small Fiesta ware pitcher with the Worlds Fair Logo. I paid $500 for it in 1982.

    1. Frank, that's just TOO fab! Can you take some pics — I'd LOVE to post them.