When you think of Louisville, horseracing, baseball bats, and Cardinals probably come to mind. But another lesser-known product of this proud city on the Ohio River is pottery made from the many clay deposits in the area. One of the many artists to embrace this natural resource was Mary Alice Hadley.
Even before Mary Alice was born in the early 1900s, her family was in the clay business, making clay tiles for use in homes and businesses. She initially expressed her artistic talent through painting, then decided to combine her personal skills with those of her family and started making clay dishware. Seeing her creations, friends started asking Mary Alice to make pieces for her, and in the mid-1940s, her husband, George, purchased a building in Butchertown that still serves as the M.A. Hadley headquarters today.
M.A. Hadley pottery is instantly recognizable by its gray background, blue band around the edge, and simple, yet whimsical design on each piece. There are many themes, each of which feature several different images. The country theme has farm animals, coastal has ships and marine creatures, seasonal has winter, Christmas, or Easter pictures, and western includes cowboys and cacti. Larges pieces, including casseroles, canister sets, and pie plates come in the same themes, and bowls, cups and dishes with different pictures are also available for children and pets.
Although it can be used for decoration, Hadley pottery is designed to be used. Its durability comes from the clay, which is over 250 million years old, and the process it goes through before being sold. Once a piece is shaped, the design is hand-painted on it, then a special glaze is applied through spraying or dipping. The pottery is fired only once at about 2100 degrees Fahrenheit, fusing together the clay, paint, and glaze. Painting the design on before the glaze – called “underglazing” – and using the one-step firing process helps ensure that the design will not wear off over time.
Because of our proximity to Louisville, online auctions and estate sales in the Tri-State area often feature Hadley Pottery, which makes starting a collection relatively easy and affordable. Whether you collect an entire set of one pattern or enjoy select pieces from different series, Hadley Pottery can be a wonderful addition to your home.