The West Virginia Division of Culture and History will celebrate the exhibit, Homer Laughlin China Company: West Virginia’s Gift to the World, with a gala reception on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m., in the Cultural Center, State Capitol Complex, Charleston. Visitors can meet Jack and Liz Mcllvain and Pete and Jean Wicks, owners of the company; see a film about the company, From Essential Elements to Enduring Elegance; and witness the presentation of special edition pieces of china to Governor Joe Manchin III and First Lady Gayle Manchin and Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith of the Division of Culture and History. The event is free and open to the public.
The exhibit is on display in the Lobby Gallery where visitors can see the “Great Wall of China,” consisting of ten rows of china dating from the 1930s through the 1980s. The Lobby Gallery also has more recent selections of the Fiesta and Ameriwhite lines. The north wing of the Balcony Gallery has a timeline of the china company and selections of Harlequin, Fiesta, West Virginia University and Marshall University specialty pieces and other assorted lines and shapes of china. The show includes more than 200 pieces from the West Virginia State Museum Collection. The Homer Laughlin China Company recently donated more than 300 pieces to the museum, many of which are on display.
The Homer Laughlin China Company is situated along the Ohio River in Newell, Hancock County. It traces its roots to 1872 when the city council of East Liverpool, Ohio, started a competition and offered $5,000 to anyone who built a four-kiln factory to manufacture white ware. Homer and Shakespeare Laughlin were the winners of the competition and they broke ground in 1873, opening in September of 1874. Homer bought out his brother in 1877 and in the 1880s he developed genuine American china, which when held to the light demonstrated a transparency that is an important component of true china. In 1897, Laughlin sold the company to W. E. Wells and Louis I. Aaron. On Jan. 1, 1907, the company opened Plant Four, across the river in Newell and was said to be the largest pottery plant ever constructed.
Fiesta was created in 1935 by Frederick Hurten Rhead, one of the world’s most distinguished ceramists. It soon became the most successful line of china ever made in any factory. In 1959 the company began producing restaurant ware, and in 1995, it introduced Ameriwhite, which provides an enhanced impact resistant body that is finished in a high-fire abrasion-resistant mirror glaze that is 100% lead free. In 2002, the Wells family acquired the company from the Aarons. Liz Mcllvain and Jean Wicks are fourth generation members of the Wells family.
For more information about the exhibit reception, contact Jacqueline Proctor, deputy commissioner of the Division, at (304) 558-0220, ext. 120.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. Its administrative offices are located at the Cultural Center in the State Capitol Complex in Charleston, which also houses the state archives and state museum. The Cultural Center is West Virginia’s official showcase for the arts. The agency also operates a network of museums and historic sites across the state. For more information about the Division’s programs, visit www.wvculture.org. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.
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