Thursday, April 24, 2008

How I Began Collecting Vintage Fiestaware

My Fiestaware Odyssey

In 1997, one of my grandmothers passed away and I began collecting vintage fiestaware.

Fiestaware dinnerware was a part of my growing up. During summer vacations and holiday visits, my family would go “home” to West Virginia. I'm not from West Virginia, wasn't born there, but West Virginia in many ways is home. And one of the highlights of going home to Kimball, a little coal town in the southern part of the state, was my grandmother's cooking.

She had a big kitchen that I remember as being a light and lively place, literally. It had big windows that let in a lot of daylight, and it was full of colors; yellows, whites, oranges, greens, and browns. It was also full of good feelings, great conversation, and some of the best food you might ever lay your lips across. And, except for special occasions, that food was always served on what is now called “vintage” fiestaware.

I have eaten many a bowl of cereal from the small 4” fruit bowls, and have had many meals on the fiestaware's 9” luncheon plates, piled high with fried chicken, pork chops and gravy, mashed potatoes, fresh snapped green beans, fresh corn-on-the-cob, greens, and freshly made potato salad, and the pièce de résistance, homemade Parker House rolls that would melt in your mouth. Mmmmm. Makes my mouth water just thinking about it!

Whether it was a simple breakfast cereal (I liked Fruit Loops and Coco Puffs best) with a slice of cantaloupe or honeydew melon, followed by a larger breakfast meal served later, weekday lunch or delicious Sunday brunch, one of the most powerful memories about eating in that kitchen, feeling my grandmother's love and sharing with my family is the vintage fiestaware. For me, Homer Laughlin's festively-colored dinnerware embodies within it all of those pleasant memories and feelings and emotions of many years gone by.

My grandmother had a huge fiestaware collection because she didn't "collect" it. She used it. Her dinnerware set had been accumulated over a number of years and included all of the original colors; red, yellow, green, cobalt blue, and ivory, as well as turquoise, and later 50's colors rose, chartreuse, forest green, she had them all.

When my grandmother passed away nearly eleven years ago, her extensive collection of fiestaware was all given to another family member. My older sister and I were devastated. Although by that time fiestaware had been a collectible for many years, it had not yet reached the proportions and phenominal collectible status that it holds today (especially after the advent of eBay). But, that's not why we wanted it. We wanted it for what it symbolized to us; our grandmother's love and caring, summers spent in our grandparent's home, and my grandmother's absolute artistry and proficiency in the realm of the Kitchen.

So, since we weren't favored with so much as one piece of my grandmother's fiesta dinnerware set, we began collecting vintage fiestaware of our own. And in the years from then until now, my affinity for fiestaware has only grown. I have become enamored with its attributes; the results of wonderfully talented design and craftsmanship, beauty and durability.

I only collect vintage fiestaware (I've never liked the new), and I use it. I don't use it everyday, but I could and wouldn't have any problem doing so. Some people collect fiestaware and put it away, daring anyone to touch it for fear that it will get cracked or broken and damaged. And while I understand how they feel, it is art after all, I feel a bit differently.

I choose to use my fiestaware. It makes me feel good. I love the bright colors, I love the weight and the feel of the pottery. I love running my fingers over the smooth and shiny finish. And I love thinking about my grandmother.

That's my story. That's how I began collecting vintage fiestaware. What's yours?

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