August 22, 2012

Guest Blogger Martin Tatarka: Beer, Baseball, and Pottery

photo: Leah Leitson
Maybe I’m still a baseball nerd but I’ve toned it down some since I’ve been married. I no longer take a radio with ear phones to the game so I can hear the announcers doing the call and color as I keep my score card. My wife would- n’t join me to the ball park if I did . My wife has taken a shine to doing the score card and now shares that duty with me. So on our vacation to visit my family in Colorado we had a chance to see a Rockies baseball game..
If you are ever in colorful Colorado you should check the home of the Na- tional League Colorado Rockies. Although the Rockies are in the cellar of their division, there is still an adventure to be found at Coors Field. Try a serv- ing of Rocky Mountain Oysters or get a DVD of yourself calling half an inning of the game, stand or sit at a mile high (the elevation has been marked with purple seats), have an ice cold Blue Moon Beer at the Coors micro brewery in the stadium or do some good ole people watching. I can’t think of a better way to spend a summer afternoon.
I grew up in a Colorado before there was major league baseball and long after Coors was on the scene. In fact when President Ulysses S. Grant ad- mitted Colorado as the 38th state in the union Coors beer was already filling barrels in its Golden, Colorado plant.
Golden, Colorado, home of Coors, is a town of about 19,000 just west of Denver and sits right up against the foot hills on the Front Range. The town started out as a gold rush town and was a political and economic re- gional center. It also supplied prospectors and boom towns with beer, coal, paper, and bricks. Two distinct geographical points of interest, Table Mountain and Clear Creek, have been used on Coors cans or bottles. At one time it had three schools of Higher Education, Colorado School of Mines is the only one that remains.
Not far from the brewery was a deposit of porcelain which was tested at the nearby Colorado School of Mines and found to be of excellent quality.
In 1910 Alolph Coors offered John J. Herold access to the clay and space at an unused Coors building. Within a few years Golden Pottery was turning out wares. They also started making a wide range of products from cookware to spark plugs, mortar and pestles, funnels, insulators etc.

photo: Denver Art Museum exhibit

Germany had been the top producer of fine porcelain scientific ware up until the 1915 when the First World War broke out. Due to an embargo of German goods the Coors stepped up production and filled the vacancy in the market previously held by the German Companies. It was around this time that the name change became Coors Porcelain Company. When prohibition came around the brewery was closed but the porcelain, cement and malt production side of the business in- creased.
Coors produced a few lines of low-fire table ware with names like: Golden Rain-bow, Rosebud, Cook-N-Serve, Golden Ivory, Melo-tone and others. The glazes were high gloss colors much like were found in Fiesta ware. The company also produced custom service ware for clients.
After the repeal of prohibition in 1933 the brewery reopened and the porcelain section produced mugs and promotional items given away on brewery tours and for the tavern trade. Mugs, ash trays and salt shakers were supplied to the taverns with the Coors logo to advance the brand. Home brewing during prohibition was common but the techniques were crude. Because of the reduced carbonation in home brew people would put salt in the beer to give an instant head. Coors made these salt shakers in the shapes of kegs, mugs, and bottles all having the Coors logo on it.

Photo: Denver Art Museum

In 2000 the Coors Porcelain evolved to became CoorsTeK still making products like ceramic armor, ceramic tiles for the space industry and very sophisticated tools and devices in laboratory ware. They quit making vases and tea pots back in the 80’s.
For me the beauty of the Coors Laboratory Ware is that it looks so modern with the clean lines and the white surface. The sculptural aspect of the work seems to suggest forms of some microscopic zooplankton or pollen that has been enlarged.

Photos: Denver Art Museum

The porcelain pieces embrace both form and function with such grace and exactitude that they celebrate the art and craft of ceramics. I find the pieces inspiring, precious and beautiful, worthy of display in any museum.

Although the Rockies lost to the San Diego Padres, there was a pleasant surprise for us visitors from Western North Carolina. Playing for Padres, out in center field, was Cameron Maybin who was born in Asheville and graduated from Roberson High School.

notes: Material gathered for this article came from
  • The exhibit at the Denver Art Museum, “Coors Rosebud Pottery” by Robert Schneider, published by Busche Waugh Henry Pub 1984, Denver Public Library Western History Collection
  • Wikipedia entry: Golden, Colorado 

For Martin Tatarka the highest form of art is the art of living. “Making our surroundings and aesthetic choices artful is just as important as what we do in the studio”, he says. He has taught in Africa, lived in Spain and been a fishing guide in Alaska and earned his MFA in Sculpture from Cranbrook. Martin lives in Asheville, NC.