Whenever we see a white cylinder planted with a tree or flowers inside or outside an office building or a bank, and now quite often at gasoline stations, all of that is the heritage of Architectural Pottery.

Bill Stern, director of the Museum of California Design

In the late 1940s, a new style was emerging in California, with architects and designers wanting to create a seamless integration of outdoor and indoor space. Designers like Hendrik van Keppel, Taylor Green and Walter Lamb were creating furniture that functioned in both settings and there was a need for accessories that did the same. Rita Milaw Lawrence and her husband Max Lawrence founded Architectural Pottery in 1950 to fill this void, recruiting talented artists such as John Follis and LaGardo Tackett from the California School of Arts in Pasadena to create a line of modern ceramics. 

The cover of the October 21, 1951 Los Angeles Times "Home" section. "What makes the California Look? In this abstract arrangement are the glowing color, originality of treatment and simplicity of design that typify the California look."

Architectural Pottery's first catalog in 1951 was radical for the times, with the pure, streamlined forms and stark white being a departure from the ubiquitous fat-lipped terracotta pots that had been used since time immemorial. Architectural Pottery was instantly recognized and pieces from their first catalog were included in the 1951 MoMa Good Design exhibition. They offered what Rita Lawrence described as a “portable landscape” that unified the interior and exterior environments. Architectural Pottery pieces were and remain to be incredibly popular and a modern design classic— they can be found in nearly any designed California interior from the era (pictured below) and were used commercially as well, such as at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, debuted in 1955, which featured hundreds of pieces lining the building. 

Architectural Pottery In The Home

Birth of the Modern

Peter Loughrey was a talented pioneer motivated by a restless enthusiasm, crucially driven by the willingness to communicate, to share and to discover. An intuitive feel for the burgeoning interest in post-war design led Peter to establish the nascent LA Modern Auctions in 1992 — soon to evolve into the very first dedicated auction platform of its type. Although the initial turnover those first years was modest, LAMA’s impact and resonance was to spearhead a new era of collecting. With these auctions Peter, together with his wife and co-director Shannon, swiftly developed an interactive platform for what was evolving as an increasingly globalised tide of enthusiasts, dealers, curators and collectors. His auctions became a raison d’être, justification to what many of us were at the time tentatively yet willingly exploring. Here, in these auctions, post-war design was spot-lit centre stage, and celebrated as a movement in its own right.

If these initial auctions consolidated and gave focus to the market, then they also gave us an identity — achieved very simply through the semantics of the company that celebrated ‘modern’. A simple and obvious choice, but so influential and less cumbersome than the prevailing options of "twentieth century" or "post-war." Auctions at that time were traditionally associated with antiques, and there was a general disinterest within the trade to consider anything less than seventy years old as having any cultural or collectible value. Although this market had been described as being "modern" for some years already in the US, the word had not yet been internationalised beyond American shores to represent a collecting movement.

LAMA was established at exactly the right time. The zeitgeist was perfect, and helped guide many of us. Around this time I returned from the US and was shortly set to curate my first design auctions for Christie’s in London. Peter’s catalogues during this explorative period were invaluable. Perhaps difficult to understand now, in our era of immediate communication, but the fully illustrated printed LAMA catalogues were the equivalent of a fanzine that would be passed around, photocopied and then memorised. Nowhere else at the time was contained the detailed information that could allow us, many thousands of miles away in London, to distinguish between an early or a late example of, say, an Eames LCW, or to be exposed to the furniture of Schindler or Neutra. And crucially, there were prices. The prices meant that the market was real. And every so often there would be something in Peter’s sales — a trophy lying in wait for the knowledgeable — that would yield a revolutionary price, setting new records and issuing concentric ripples that gave us the confidence to recognise that our passion for this material was no daydream.

Peter had the fortune to discover his calling, and the certainty to pursue it, his delight for discovery underpinned by curatorial seriousness. Together with Shannon, LAMA established a keystone in the foundations of the modern market, flag-bearers of international design and with a global message. Today LAMA co-anchors a dedicated and influential network of US auction sites, all specialised graduates of that early era of modern discovery. A shared mission is always the most pleasurable, so thank you Peter, for helping guide the way.

Simon Andrews
Curator and advisor
Andrews Art Advisory