In the summer of 1954, an Argentinian ceramicist named Reg Dixon, who was teaching pottery classes at the Vancouver School of Art, passed through Penticton. That summer he was driving around southern British Columbia in his station wagon, with an electric wheel in the back, stopping in communities and offering classes in pottery. Interested in taking the lessons "for pleasure," Louise Schwenk was to get her start in ceramics. Showing immediate skill and promise as a potter she was encouraged by Dixon to pursue the craft and take further classes.
The impetus to study seriously came that same year. An Arctic front moved into the Okanagan Valley in November, killing a third of the orchards on the acreage run by her and her husband Adolph. Looking for a new way to support themselves in light of this economic blow, Louise enrolled in classes at the VSA in winter months of 1956, studying with Dixon as well as David Lambert, with the aim of pursuing and furthering a pottery career.
Louise won two bursaries to attend UBC that summer where she developed her craft under the tutelage of BC luminaries such as Rex Mason, Hilda Ross, Olea Davis and Zoltan Kiss. It was there that she also studied sculpture with the famed Cubist, Alexander Archipenko, and pottery with Charles Lakofsky from Bowling Green State University in Ohio. For his part, Adolph began to study decorating, glazing and firing from John Reeve and Glen Lewis.
As their reputation and clientele grew, an expansion to their basement studio was necessary - which Adolph accomplished by hand with a shovel and a bucket. The Schwenks considered themselves "artist potters" and as such they created an abundance of forms - primarily functional tableware but also whimsical and sculptural creations. They also developed some recognizable "signature" glazes - such as turquoise, black lustre, and a dark brown glaze made from the ash of applewood.
As word of their work spread, the Schwenks quickly received accolades from across Canada. They were included in a number of national exhibitions and received a full feature article in Western Living magazine in April 1961. Their crowning achievement, however, was the award of a Senior Craftman's Fellowship from the Canadian Council in 1966 which would allow them to study abroad in Europe for a year.
Sadly it was on this trip abroad when Louise suddenly passed away in England. Adolph would follow her only two years later effectively ending the Schwenk pottery. Over the span of a decade they established themselves as important potters locally and nationally, succeeding Axel Ebring as the early and important Okanagan potters.
The Schwenk's pottery received accolades across Canada, including the following...
A display of their work can be viewed at the Penticton Museum.
If you have one or more pieces of Schwenk pottery you will to sell please contact me here.
Identifying and dating Schwenk pottery...
Identifying Schwenk pottery is pretty straightforward. The photos above show variations and progression.
Far left: This is the earliest form of signature and was painted on the bottom. This mark was not used for long and dates to the mid-1950s.
Second left: This incised mark is the most common form found. This was used from approximately 1958 - 1966. Note, the bottom initials are glaze codes which have been lost.
Centre: The best pieces tend to be signed "Schwenk Penticton." This also dates a piece from approximately 1958 - 1966.
Second right: Pieces signed with the "A" beneath were made solely by Adolph and were made after Louise's passing in 1966 until his own death in 1968.
Far right: Pieces signed Schwenk Studios as shown were made at the original studio until the early 1970s after the death of both Adolph and Louise. They were made by apprentices and not what one would consider a true piece of Schwenk pottery.
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Studio Pottery Canada
Pottery enthusiast learning about the history of this Canadian art form and curating samples from the best in the field pre-1980.