Arthurdale — the nation’s first New Deal homestead community — was 3 years old when Homer Laughlin China Co. introduced Fiesta Dinnerware in 1936.
Learn about the history of the colorful dishes made in Newell at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 14, at Hospice Care Corp. offices on W.Va. 92 South in Arthurdale. Collectors are welcome to bring their own pieces to identify using resources provided by West Virginia University Libraries.
The event is free and presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Arthurdale Heritage Inc. is celebrating the 80th anniversary of the community’s founding with a series of monthly programs, said executive director Jeanne Goodman.
In June, AHI invites Dave Conley, the volunteer historian for Homer Laughlin, to talk about the historical origins of the pattern in the 1930s and discuss its continuing popularity. Conley was director of retail sales and marketing at Homer Laughlin for 25 years and semi-retired three years ago.
He encourages the audience to bring questions and WVU librarian and archivist Anna Schein also invites the public to bring pieces of dinnerware they’d like to identify or learn more about.
Schein is bringing a tabletop exhibit of the five original colors of Fiesta — red, blue, green, yellow and ivory. It will be set up on the porch at Hospice Care Corp. during the talk.
Included in the exhibit are historical photos of Fiestaware designer Frederick Hurten Rhead and of tableware being produced in the factory in the 1930s. Schein said the factory tour today shows some of the work, such as affixing handles to cups, is still done by hand.
“It interested me, once I started researching, that Fiesta was first produced during the Depression era as a very colorful and affordable item,” she said.
Schein also will have four pottery guides that are available in the West Virginia and Regional History Center at WVU Libraries. Collectors are welcome to consult those guides or Schein’s four-page bibliography of pottery identification guides that can be researched in the WV History Collection at WVU in Morgantown.
“Homer Laughlin at one time had hundreds of patterns in production,” she said. “In regard to Fiesta, you can learn what colors were made in what years, what the design changes have been, what identification as far as trademark that appears on them.
“After you identify the color and name of a piece, it’s fairly easy then to search on eBay, if you’re a collector, if you want to try to find pieces you want to acquire or determine the value of your collection.”
The bibliography lists resources for identifying pieces produced by other area potteries, including Taylor Smith & Taylor Co., McCoy Pottery, Roseville Pottery, Warwick China and Zanesville Stoneware Co.
Goodman said Arthurdale Heritage Inc. has 100 place settings of Fiestaware that, she has been told, Homer Laughlin donated before she was hired as director. When the historic preservation organization was run completely by volunteers, they used the dishes frequently for many fundraising meals. Now, it’s used to serve small tour groups who request a catered lunch.