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Passionately inspired by the display of ceramics from Japan at the Philadelphia Exhibition of 1876, Maria Longworth Nichols in 1880 established Rookwood Pottery to take advantage of the skills of amateur painters like herself. Less than two decades after Rookwood was founded, Philadelphia Museum of Art decorative arts curator (and later director) Edwin AtLee Barber wrote, "It is safe to assert that no ceramic establishment which has existed in the United States has come nearer fulfilling the requirements of a distinctly American institution than the Rookwood Pottery of Cincinnati, Ohio." Throughout its nearly eighty-year existence, Rookwood Pottery attracted artists whose experimental techniques of painting and glazing spearheaded the art pottery movement in America appealing widely to ceramic collectors.
Gerald and Virginia Gordon’s nationally renowned collection, recently given to the Museum in honor of its 125th Anniverary, features an unparalleled breadth and quality of the artist-decorated vases, plaques, and bowls that made Rookwood famous. Elegant Innovations illustrates the international artistic movements that inspired the designs of Rookwood artists—such as Art Nouveau, Art Moderne, and Art Deco—and includes splendid examples that reflect an interest in Persia, Japan, and American Indians.