Rookwood Pottery’s New Spin on Tradition

Morgan Willenbrink and Lauren Thomeczek have their hands on Rookwood’s past—and its future.
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Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

Morgan Willenbrink and Lauren Thomeczek enjoy the best of both worlds in their roles at Rookwood Pottery. As sole members of the hand throwing team, they hone their craft daily by replicating classic Rookwood pieces in the same hands-on way previous generations of artists did. They also bring their own ideas to life by creating one-of-a-kind works as part of Rookwood’s exclusive Artist Series, as well as designing and prototyping exclusive products for area businesses.

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

Working out of Rookwood’s factory and design studio on Race Street in OTR, the duo adroitly forms vases, bowls, mugs, and other objects out of clay as it spins on a potter’s wheel in a process called “throwing.” Willenbrink, a Cincinnati native and DAAP grad, was well aware of the Rookwood heritage growing up and was the company’s first hire when it decided to fire up the hand throwing team after a long dormancy. “It’s exciting to be doing what we love every day,” she says. “It’s also humbling to realize that my name will be associated with great Rookwood artists of the past like Kataro Shirayamadani and Sarah Sax.”

Photograph by Jeremy Kramer

Thomeczek, a Missouri native, came to Cincinnati after college for a ceramic residency and part-time job at Rookwood. After moving to Vermont for a three-year stint at a more established production facility, she returned to join Willenbrink on the team. Maria Longworth founded Rookwood Pottery in 1880 so local artists could form masterpieces out of clay, and the potter’s wheel clearly has come full circle.