The recent passing of Max Lawrence, co-founder of L.A.’s Architectural Pottery, has left us with a feeling of void, for we know that this iconic, influential mid-century modern thinker and businessman cannot be replaced.
In the 1950s modernism came to define the way of living in Los Angeles. Captivated by the inviting climate and newness of land, architects and designers created a new sense of living by embracing the capability of an indoor-outdoor lifestyle through post-beam construction and walls made of glass. Max and Rita Lawrence, however, added their own special warmth to this new lifestyle by bringing the outdoors inside through streamlined pottery.
Max Lawrence and his wife Rita first started the company Architectural Pottery in 1950, after Rita saw the fantastic potential of students’ designs at the now-defunct California School of Art in Pasadena. From a class project led by professor La Gardo Tackett in 1949, students were prompted to create designs to fill a void in the home accessories market. The Lawrence’s saw the opportunity to produce and distribute these new designs, bringing geometric earthenware to the masses.
Architectural Pottery’s iconic designs are characterized by sleek-lined vessels, devoid of ornamentation, and are usually large in scale. These simple, geometric forms – cones, cylinders, gourds, and totems – allowed architects and designers to incorporate these accessories seamlessly in their homes and buildings. Designers of Architectural Pottery included Malcom Leland, David Cressey, John Follis, and Rex Goode, who each created their own distinctive designs.
John Caldwell, who also worked with Architectural Pottery, noted “just about every significant architectural project of the 1950s had to have an Eames chair and an Architectural Pottery pot in it.” Architectural Pottery could be seen in buildings of the most prominent architects of the time such as Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra, John Lautner and Pierre Koenig. In 1955 the popularity of the pottery skyrocketed, which was noted in an order of 200 of the famous white cylindrical planters to accent the indoor-outdoor spaces of the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
In addition these smartly designed planters were selected for the Museum of Modern Art 1951 “Good Design” exhibition because of their versatility and refreshingly sleek geometric shapes. This precipitated in making the containers icons, which enabled Architectural Pottery to expand in producing more varied products such as lounge furniture, birdhouses, urns and tiles.
In 1985 Architectural Pottery had to shut down due to a fire that destroyed the Lawrence’s Manhattan Beach manufacturing plant. Even though the plant shut down, the legacy of Architectural Pottery endured through the ever-present white cylindrical planter. The popularity of Architectural Pottery has come back and pieces are now sought after by collectors and museums.