Eating with blue polar bears

Published 7:01 am Sunday, October 1, 2017

Last week cats; this week polar bears! Another artifact found on display at the Hormel Historic Home is a Dedham Pottery plate featuring blue polar bears.

To ensure the safety of the antique, we have chosen to keep the plate stored away, but we are now able to share it with guests in a display cabinet in the Event Center corridor.

The bear essentials. Photo provided

We do not know exactly how the plate came to be in the collection of the HHH, but with its historic origin, we are pleased it is here. It could have belonged to Mrs. Hormel or she could have gifted it to the YWCA, but regardless, it is old, it is lovely, and it is now available for you to see.

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The history of Dedham Pottery was inspired by the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. There, Scottish potter, Hugh C. Robertson saw pottery from China that had a blood-red crackled glaze and he was moved to create his own version using the signature cobalt blue seen on our plate. Robertson was part of a family business known as Chelsea Pottery which was founded in Chelsea, Massachusetts, in 1867. In 1896, the family moved their business to Dedham, Massachusetts, and changed the name accordingly.

Popularity of the hand-painted Dedham pieces has grown since the company stopped producing in 1943. The most widely recognizable pattern is of crouching rabbits, but over 50 patterns were created including chicks, butterflies, lions, ducks, elephants, dolphins, swans, turtles and polar bears. The company made a wide variety of service pieces and many are available on and other online collector sites.

The process of creating the distinctive designs was long and included an obscure combination of materials and environmental conditions. Once a piece was decorated it was placed in a kiln for a second firing lasting 24 hours. When the still warm glaze met cooler air, the glaze began to crackle, leaving the unique design. To accentuate the design, lampblack was then rubbed into the cracks. Dedham Pottery is an excellent example of the use of nature to inspire creativity during the Arts and Crafts movement. Its whimsical and creative design appeals to those wanting a one-of-a-kind piece.

In 2003 an event was held in the historic carriage house of the Hormel Home which featured a presentation by antique expert Gwen Znerold of Des Moines. During her visit to the Hormel Home she was shown the antique polar bear pottery and exclaimed of its beauty and condition.

No one knew until then that the HHH had such a prized antique in its collection.

Autism Emergency Preparedness Workshops

9 -11 a.m.; 2-4 p.m.; 6-8 p.m., Monday

Free at the Arc 401 2nd Ave. NE. Register at

History Happy Hour: History of Oakwood Cemetery

5:30 p.m. social; 6 p.m. presentation, Monday, Oct. 9

Presented by Jaimie Timm, Mower County Historical Society curator. The History of Oakwood Cemetery will discuss how the cemetery got its start, explore its location as one of Austin’s oldest claims, and look at a few of the people buried on its grounds. Free for members of the HHH, Mower County Historical Society, and Friends of the Library. $5 non member. Snack and cash bar available.