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Gladding, McBean & Co., was founded in 1875 to produce sewer tile for the rapidly developing American West, but their fame began with production of Franciscan dinnerware in 1934 at their plant in Glendale, California. Gladding, McBean dinnerware was developed and marketed with the arrival of Frederic and Mary Grant. Frederic already had experience in the emerging disciplines and styles of American art pottery, having been president of Weller Pottery previously, and Mary was a talented artist. The Grants worked together for many years of Franciscan production, creating many of the best loved designs plus guiding the work of the other artist's and engineers that worked at the company. They worked together at the company well into the 1950s influencing most every major Franciscan design. Other talented artists still produced compelling designs in the mid 20th century period including the Eclipse American Modern and Starburst patterns of the mid 1950s. Starburst in particular is a hot fifties collectible, desirable for its innovation of an irregular shape and abstract design which become the norm for mid century mass production of the fifties "look."

Franciscan was originally sold under the name Franciscan Pottery and used bright colors in the design and production of earthenware pieces in the style of the American Southwest. The name Franciscan is an allusion to Franciscan monks and reflected the simple, informal style of Mexican folk pottery. They grew through acquisition, buying smaller regional potteries and acquiring new production capabilities to produce a wider array of goods including art pottery, garden pottery, and decorative tiles. Franciscan was instrumental in creating the "California Style" of American ceramics, adopting Spanish names for their lines such as Montecito and Coronado. They changed the markings to Franciscan Ware in the 1930s in an effort to broaden their market image, and simultaneously they introduced new patterns which were hand painted and used a raised relief technique in the ceramic production. The most famous of this period, Franciscan Apple  first produced in 1940 and Franciscan Desert Rose first produced in 1941, are still produced today although early pieces are what collectors seek. It has been observed that Desert rose is the most popular American dinnerware of all time, a claim that even if not true accurately reflects its sustained popularity from continuous production since the inception of the design. 

Some designs such as Wildflower were only produced for a few years, which as you might imagine reflects scenes of the western wildflowers and flora. Other popular patterns include Ivy, October, and Fresh Fruit, and later popular work by other designers includes Contours designed by George James in the 1950s, Hacienda in the 1960s, and Picnic and Madeira in the 1970s. They survived the entry of the Japanese into the American ceramics market in the 60s by shifting some new design production there like the Whitestone, and Cosmopolitan lines, and they were one of the earliest U.S. companies to see this trend and adapt for success. They began producing fine china during World War II, in 1942, an accomplishment in itself. They marketed china under the "Franciscan Masterpiece China" label in the late 1950s, and continuing into the late 1970s. Masterpiece China was purchased in 1961 by Jacqueline Kennedy for Air Force One and in 1960 by Richard Nixon for the Presidential yacht.

Franciscan finally ceased production in 1984 following a series of mergers including their 1979 sale to Wedgwood of England. They shifted all Franciscan production to the UK and American production ceased.  Franciscan designs, especially those done specifically by Mary and Frederic Grant, have appeared in museum exhibitions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art which featured the Encanto line in its 1951 "Good Design" Exhibition.

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Franciscan: An American Dinnerware Tradition The House of Haeger 1914-1944: The Revitalization of American Art Pottery
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