Carl Ahrens 1862-1936

 

Carl Ahrens at Roycroft n.d.

Carl Ahrens at Roycroft n.d.

Capsule

Dates: Carl Henry von Ahrens: 1862-1936

Production Dates: 1900 – c.1902

Location: Southern Ontario and East Aurora NY

Types of Work: Functional of a sort

Preferred Kiln Type and Firing Process: unknown kiln

Preferred Clay: unknown

Signature/Mark/Chop: not known

Biography

Carl Ahrens was a southern Ontario painter, whose career for a period expanded into pottery at Roycroft, a community established by Elbert Hubbard in East Aurora, New York. No examples of the work are currently known to exist. So why write about him? He is interesting because he shows how the many threads arising from the Arts and Crafts Movement affected creative people across North America. Even though this experiment was short lived it does reflect the power of international art movements affecting Canadian society at the time. Perhaps confirmed examples of their pottery will come to light as a result of this article.

Carl Ahrens is one of Canada’s best known landscape painters. He was a restless, interesting soul. Raised in Berlin (Kitchener), Ontario, his early life took him across North America: to Winnipeg, Lesser Slave Lake, South Dakota, Nebraska.1 He tried a variety of careers: from law clerk, claims holder, dentist to button dyer.2

By 1886 he began to paint but had little formal training. Then by 1889 he was exhibiting with the Ontario Society of Artists and in 1891 he was elected associate painter in the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He studied further in New York, eventually returning to Toronto where he became a landscape painter. This is the genre for which he is principally known.

However, he had extensive family connections and experience in the pottery business around the Grand River area. It was this experience that brought him to Hubbard’s attention.

It was in Toronto in 1899 that he met Elbert Hubbard. Hubbard had started an arts and crafts community in East Aurora, New York, called Roycroft. Hubbard learned of Ahren’s pottery experience and invited him to Roycroft to set up the pottery shop. Ahrens moved there with his family and cousin, Eleanor Douglass, in 1900. However, disagreements soon arose between the businessman and the artist on the quality of the work expected.  After four months the utopian  pottery experiment failed, as did his marriage.

The ceramic works were popular but Hubbard wanted to sell them unglazed, meaning they could not hold water. The artistic break was complicated by money, ownership and threatened lawsuits.3 Probably fewer than one hundred pieces were made before Ahrens left. The pieces in stock were divided between the potters and Hubbard, which may explain the reference to Roycroft pottery being sold in 1902. Examples of Roycroft pottery probably do exist, but probably  were never signed with the the Roycroft mark since it had not been officially registered as a trademark until about 1900.

Interestingly the small pitcher being used as a paint brush holder in the pictue above  might be an example of the pottery produced.

Ahrens stayed in East Aurora until 1905 then returned to painting.4

Endnotes & Bibliography:

  1.   Carl Ahrens biography: http://www.carlahrens.com/ahrenssite_002.htm
  2.  ibid.
  3.  Roycroft: Early Artisans: Carl Ahrens – Elbert Hubbard: An American Original: PBS http://www.pbs.org/wned/elbert-hubbard/carl-ahrens.php
  4.  Carl Ahrens biography: http://www.carlahrens.com/ahrenssite_002.htm

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