Longtime Cincinnati Humler & Nolan auction gallery director and Antiques Roadshow appraiser Riley Humler likely has handled more pieces of Rookwood Pottery than any living person—in the tens of thousands. Yet his personal collection numbers in the dozens. In layman’s terms, Humler is picky about his pottery. He likes what is “different,” not necessarily what is the most valuable.
Humler’s advice to novice art pottery collectors, whether they like Cincinnati’s iconic Rookwood or contemporary pieces, is to practice connoisseurship. “People need to spend as much time as they can studying what they want and then approach it with vigor. Know more about it than the people who are selling it.” Humler and wife Annie Bauer’s current favorite is independent Pendleton Art Center potter and Rookwood designer Terri Kern. They appreciate her amazingly detailed work, her inspired designs, and her free spirit.
Humler purchased his first piece of Rookwood, a 1944 porcelain vase by modernist Jens Jensen, at an auction in 1972. It cost him $37 and would be worth $700–$1,000 today. “I hadn’t heard of Rookwood before, but I liked that you could look up everything in a book and find out about it.”
That’s not always true with new pottery, Humler says, “But the one thing that’s nice about contemporary art is you can talk to the artists.” He met Jensen (1895–1978) once and says “he was a very eccentric artist with a tortured soul,” which explains why his Rookwood designs are so strikingly singular.