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Is there a Van Briggle in your attic?

Artus Van Briggle was 30 years old when he arrived in Colorado Springs in 1899, hoping to cure his tuberculosis. An Ohio native of Dutch descent, he had already studied ceramic art at the AcadÈmie Julian in Paris, where he became intrigued with re-creating the lost matte glaze of the Chinese Ming Dynasty.For his first two years in Colorado Springs, Van Briggle experimented and finally perfected a soft, marble-like matte glaze in a variety of colors. In 1901, he opened Van Briggle Pottery and invited Anne Gregory, an American art student and painter he had met in Paris, to join him.The two married in 1902, and the new Mrs. Van Briggle threw herself into the pottery business, designing alongside her husband in the Art Noveau style that emerged from Europe at the turn of the 20th century.Artists working in Art Noveau style took their inspiration from nature, using the shapes of leaves and flowers to transform ordinary household objects ñ vases, soap dishes, bowls, bookends, ashtrays and candlestick holders ñ into works of art.By the end of their first year in business, Van Briggle pieces had won awards throughout Europe, from organizations such as the Salon de Paris, the official art exhibition of the AcadÈmie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The acclaim put Colorado Springs on the map in the European art world.Locally, in the houses along the broad avenues of downtown Colorado Springs, it became fashionable to frame fireplaces with Van Briggle art tiles.More awards were won in the next two years, including prizes from the 1904 Centennial Exhibit in St. Louis. But just as the Van Briggles were beginning to achieve tremendous success, tuberculosis claimed the life of Artus Van Briggle. He was only 35 years old when he died in 1904.Anne Van Briggle continued the pottery business, working with William Palmer, a stockholder in the company. They built the company’s second pottery factory, the Memorial Plant, on the corner of West Uintah Street and Glen Avenue in Colorado Springs.Rather than build the standard brick factory of the day, Colorado Springs architect Nicholas van den Arend was hired to design a building that, with placement along Monument Creek in the shadow of Pikes Peak and Rampart Range, would inspire the company’s artists.Van den Arend’s design is in the style of the Flemish farmhouses of his homeland. Two towers stand high above the roof line ñ they vented the factory’s pottery kilns. The exterior is decorated with Van Briggle art tiles and whimsical architectural details, such as a gargoyle cat.The Memorial Plant opened in 1908, the same year that Anne Van Briggle remarried, becoming Anne Ritter. In 1910, she reorganized the company as the ìVan Briggle Pottery and Tile Co.î and leased the Memorial Plant to Edmund Curtis. She moved to Denver to pursue painting until her death in 1929.Without the Van Briggles at the helm, the company struggled financially and was eventually auctioned off to the highest bidder. Curtis won the bid, but the company was later sold two more times.In 1919, a fire gutted the factory’s interior but left the kilns and exterior intact. The pottery’s owners, I. F. and J. H. Lewis, modernized the factory; stabilized production and put the business on sound financial footing.Under a name change to the ìVan Briggle Art Pottery Co.î in 1931, the company stayed in business during the Great Depression, despite the destruction of the company’s ceramic molds during the flood of 1935. The company shut down for three years during World War II, and reopened in time for the 1950s tourist boom.In 1953, fearing that the Interstate 25 route through Colorado Springs would require the destruction of the Memorial Plant, J. H. Lewis opened another factory in a railroad roundhouse on Midland Road. His decision was a stroke of genius, as tourists on their way to Garden of the Gods Park stopped to browse the factory and purchase Van Briggles as souvenirs.The Memorial Plant was saved by rerouting I-25, and the factory continued to turn out vast numbers of art pottery and tiles for many years.In 1968, Lewis sold the Memorial Plant to Colorado College, which used it for offices and storage. Since 1970, the building has housed the college’s facilities services department. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties in 2009, and restored in 2011.Van Briggle Pottery continues to sell pottery at its current location at 1024 South Tejon St. in Colorado Springs, still producing some of the original designs while introducing new designs on a regular basis. The business went up for sale at the end of 2011.From time to time, the owner of a Colorado Springs home built in the early 1900s removes plaster or some other covering from a fireplace and finds Van Briggle art tiles underneath. Sometimes, the grandchildren of farmers in the Midwest inherit a farmhouse and find a box containing Van Briggle figurines ñ something their grandmother bought on a trip to Colorado Springs.Finding a rare Van Briggle can do wonders for the pocketbook. In January, eBay listed a 1903 gourd-shaped matte purple pottery vase with a spiral poppy design at $5,000.

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