|By Don Johnson
Buried in a December 1906 article about the opening of the premier exhibition of the National Society of Craftsmen, The New York Times noted several lesser-known potters who were represented.
The report included this mention: “Excellent work comes from Russell G. Crook of South Lincoln, Mass.”
Many pottery aficionados do not know the name.
Crook was a sculptor, plaster molder and potter. “He exhibited extensively with the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts from 1899-1927. He was also a member of the Wayland Massachusetts Society from 1906-1912, where he was known for his animal decoration on earthenware,” noted Skinner, Inc., in a 2012 auction listing for a deer-decorated vase made by Crook.
According to the auction house, two examples of the potter’s work are shown in Earliest Recollections: Furnishings From the Family of Edwin B. Sears, a catalog published by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. The Newark Museum has a piece among its holdings.
Wells Tiles & Antiques of Los Angeles, which has handled Crook’s wares, notes on its website that in 1908 Crook attained the designation of Master Craftsman by the Boston Society of Arts & Crafts. In addition to working for himself, he designed tiles for Grueby Pottery. He was commissioned by Grueby in 1902 for the decoration of Dreamworld, the elaborate estate of stock manipulator Thomas William Lawson at Scituate, Mass.
“Crook’s highly sought-after salt-glazed earthenware vessels demonstrate the same affinity for naturalistic animal motifs,” Wells Tiles & Antiques noted.
One of the most recent pieces to come on the market was an unmarked stoneware vase featuring a moose walking among pine trees. Made around 1906 to 1912, the 13 1/4-inch vase sold for $8,050 during the Holiday Sale 2012 conducted by Humler & Nolan of Cincinnati, Ohio. The vase was estimated at $3,000 to $4,000.
“That’s a real typical Russell Crook piece,” noted Riley Humler.
“He’s a fairly obscure studio potter,” Humler added. “His stuff doesn’t show up all that much.” When it does, wildlife is generally the subject.
Craftsmen Auctions in Lambertville, N.J., sold an 8-inch moose-decorated vase for $6,600 in March 2006, while the auction house also sold a damaged 14 3/4-inch vase showing fish and aquatic plants for $1,175 in May 2005. Each was unmarked.
A 12-inch vase depicting deer, incised “RC” on the base, having restoration, chips and hairlines, sold for $1,659 at a Skinner auction in December 2010.
Tiles can also be found, with several currently available online. Wells Tiles & Antiques offered an example showing two parrots perched on a basket of grapes, 6.75 inches square, at $1,200, while a 6-inch tile of a turkey was $1,000. Each unmarked tile had a minor chip.
Crook’s fame wasn’t limited to art pottery. In the article The Story of Horace Dodge Jr. and the Making of Waves, author Bob Pearson noted that Crook designed a mermaid ornament made of nickel-plated steel.
Similar to a hood ornament on a car, the figures were mounted on the bows of Dodge Watercars – a type of speedboat that competed with the likes of Chris-Craft in the 1920s and 1930s.
The ornament was discontinued because it was frequently snapped off by anchor and mooring lines.
It appears Crook did better with moose vases and turkey tiles. For that, art pottery collectors are thankful.