The crabtrees were flowering as we approached the Richland County Historical Museum, which stands alongside Chahinkapa Park, in Wahpeton. Across the street we checked out the 53 Counties monument, a plaque on which says it was dedicated in 1969 “to Robert J. Hughes, founder of Chahinkapa Park.”
The plaque attached to the flagpole in front of the museum says it, too, is dedicated to “R. J. Hughes, founder of the North Dakota Auto Club, in recognition of his years of untiring service to the club and to his state.”
And a sign on the brick wall of the museum says it is a “Rosemeade Interpretive Center.” In fact it may be that the greatest claim to fame of the much-honored Wahpeton publisher Robert Hughes is that he brought Laura Taylor to Wahpeton to found Rosemeade Pottery. And oh yes, he also married her.
So just inside the museum, just above what is said to be the world’s largest guestbook, hang portraits of Robert J. and Laura Taylor Hughes, founders of the Richland County Historical Society. Cases in the museum are filled with Rosemeade figurines, molds, designs, and other memorabilia of this highly collectible line of ceramics.
Laura Taylor grew up in Delamere, North Dakota, and attended Valley City State Teachers College and the University of North Dakota. After college she worked a while with the Dickinson Clay Products Company, which produced a line of pottery it called Dickota. Soon after, however, in 1936, Taylor was named to head up the WPA ceramics program in North Dakota, putting unemployed ceramicists to work.
Taylor and the WPA did some interesting work with North Dakota clay, but a crucial development occurred in 1939 when the WPA sent Taylor to the World’s Fair to demonstrate her craft. It was there she met an attendee at the fair, Robert Hughes, of the Wahpeton Globe-Gazette, who took a shine not only to the pottery but also to the potter.
Hughes persuaded Taylor to come to his home town and found the Wahpeton Pottery Company, maker of Rosemeade ceramics. Three years later the two were married. Another key figure, besides the hundreds of individuals who worked in the plant over the years, was Howard J. Lewis, who came in as plant manager in 1944. His particular contribution was the formulation of the distinctive glazes on Rosemeade pottery. Laura Taylor Hughes was the designer of Rosemeade products.
The cases at the Richland County Historical Museum are filled with examples of her work, including her signature pheasant figurines. Design sketches and plaster molds give a view of the creation process for these figurines so prized by collectors today. Personally, I want to acquire a pair of those bison bookends bearing the legend “NDAC” produced by Rosemeade in a limited run.
Laura Taylor Hughes died in 1959, the pottery factory closed in 1961, and the salesroom closed in 1964. Robert Hughes died in 1970.
Here is a bit of mystery yet to track down. I believe that among the works Laura Taylor exhibited in New York in 1939 was the ceramic bust of Wilhelmine Geiszler, the martyr mother of the Germans from Russia, a bust made by Laura Hughes and now held by the McIntosh County Heritage Center. Indeed, the Richland County Historical Museum exhibits a few pottery items identified with the town of Ashley, in McIntosh County. The bust of Wilhelmine Geiszler is one of the most historically significant works of art in North Dakota, and when I get the time, I’m going to track down the relationship between Laura Taylor Hughes, Rosemeade Pottery, Wilhelmine Geiszler, and German-Russian Country.