Dickinson Clay Products Company
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Shortly before the turn of the 20th century, a UND biology professor and his brother purchased an old brick plant near Dickinson and turned it into one of the state’s premier brick plants.
Producing high quality fire brick and face brick, the Dickinson Fire and Pressed Brick Company employed up to 30 men, but it was seasonal work since the brickyard was unable to operate during the winter months. In 1934, to keep the men employed year-round, art pottery was introduced to the plant. Soon, art pottery production surpassed brick production. In keeping with the changes, on this date in 1934, the company’s name changed to Dickinson Clay Products Company.
The trade name of the pottery ‘Dickota’, D-I-C-K-O-T-A, included the first four letters of the city, Dickinson, combined with the last three letters of the state. Retail sales of Dickota Pottery spread quickly from Dickinson to Bismarck and eventually throughout the Midwest, especially after the addition of Charles Grantier.
A UND graduate and former student of Margaret Kelly Cable, Charles G. Grantier, joined the company as a designer shortly after its reorganization. Using the abundant native clay found nearby, Grantier found inspiration for his designs in the surrounding region, evidenced by work ranging from a small buffalo figure promoting North Dakota to a tipi-shaped incense burner and mountain sheep bookends. Another popular motif created by Grantier was called “Sundog.” A familiar sight on the frigid plains of a North Dakota winter, Grantier captured the natural phenomenon on clay ashtrays and bowls with rainbow-like lines radiating toward the sun near the horizon. But the pieces designed by Grantier and produced in the largest quantities were souvenir commercial wares, such as an ashtray produced for the Lewis and Clark Hotel depicting an image of Red Tomahawk, the same Native American profiled on the state highway signs.
The Dickinson Clay Plant attracted other notable North Dakota artists as well. UND’s Margaret Kelly Cable spent several weeks at the plant designing dinnerware known as Dickota Cableware. Laura Taylor, known for her Rosemeade pottery, also designed an ashtray with a lounging lion while conducting classes in Dickinson.
Although Dickota Pottery proved the economic viability of using western North Dakota’s clay in commercial pottery, its success was short-lived. The worsening economic conditions of the Great Depression forced the plant to close it doors in November of 1937.
While working for the Dickinson Clay Products Company, Charles Grantier penned these lines for a 1936 advertising brochure:
Clods of clay- too long
you’ve lain awaiting
the potter’s hand.
You’re destined now to
Please the eyes of
men throughout the
Your gorgeous hues of
Reds and blues
Of tans and buffs and
Are truly those the
To weave in many
Tis “Dickota” I shall
name this ware
From which these clays
And shape the clay
with gentle care
As the potter’s wheel is
Written by Christina Sunwall
Babcock, E. J. Report of the Geological Survey of North Dakota: First Biennial Report. Grand Forks: North Dakota Geological Survey, 1901.
Berg, Claudia, and Mark J. Halvorson. “A Century of North Dakota Pottery.” North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains 65, no. 2 & 3 (1998): 54-60.
Darlene Hurst Dommel, Arley Olsen, and Bonnie Olson. “Charles Grantier, Dakota Artisan.” North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains 65, no. 2 & 3 (1998): 26-32.
Olson, Arley and Bonnie, “Dickota Pottery”, North Dakota Pottery Collectors Society http://ndpcs.org/Dickota.htm.
Vyzralek, Frank E. “Brickmaking in North Dakota, 1868-1998.” North Dakota History: Journal of the Northern Plains 65, no. 2 & 3 (1998): 33-49.