Colorado Gallery

Ames Pottery - People

#83 2015-08-01

Ames Art Pottery -- Ames Historical Society

The Ames Historical Society (AHS) reported little was known about Ames Art Pottery (link,pdf). Long-time resident Delmar Woodward worked at the pottery in 1940, and recalled it was run by Bill Zinszer who drove up from Hays, Kansas each year to make and sell his pottery.

For most of the pottery's output Woodward mixed and poured liquid clay into molds. Some of the pots were thrown by Zinszer, but most were molded using trucked-in clay.

The pottery operated from 1935 until 1940.

The pottery

So far we have not found any slip-cast pieces as described by Woodward, but one example AHS shows, a creamer, is seemingly molded or cast. 

The remaining pieces they show look to be as we also know them: nicely thrown and hand finished.

So a picture of Ames Pottery as a mostly slip-cast operation doesn't jibe with the pottery we have seen.


We found Zinszer was the second of two managers of Ames Pottery. He ran the business only for some period after 1937, until 1940.

He had been a student at Ft Hays Kansas State College, and while managing Ames Pottery he also attended classes at Iowa State College.

William Zinszer 1937 photo

The pottery went out of business shortly after the 1940 tourist season and Zinszer found work that same year in Boise, Idaho.

Ames Pottery founder

Ames Pottery was actually founded in 1935 by Howard Erwin.

Howard Erwin 1930 photo

Erwin was a graduate of Iowa State. Then after graduation he worked for Niloak Pottery in Benton, Arkansas.

From 1935 through 1937 his shop staff included Jonathan Hunt as thrower. Hunt's teachings and skills must have been a plus to create the quality pieces we find today.

Howard Robert Erwin (1910-1987)

Howard Erwin was a native of Ames. He was a student at Iowa State and graduated, class of '33, with a major in Ornamental Ceramics. He studied under the highly regarded Paul E Cox.

Note Cox had introduced another of his students, Howard Lewis, class of '28, to Niloak. Lewis worked for Niloak for two years "developing clay bodies and glazes" through late 1934.

Howard Erwin 1931 photo

Immediately following graduation Erwin also went to Niloak and joined Lewis. Niloak had to let them both go in early 1935 so Erwin founded Ames Pottery and Lewis went to Dickota Pottery.

Howard Stillman Lewis (1904-1993)

Howard Lewis' roots were farther west. He was born in Ainsworth, Nebraska in 1904, on New Years Day.

After his work at Niloak he went to Dickota Pottery, remaining on until it folded in late 1937. The following spring he joined Jonathan Hunt at Broadmoor Pottery in Denver until it too went under the next year, 1939.

We wonder if Lewis remained in the Denver area for awhile after Broadmoor failed. Hunt remained in the area until his death in 1943, the year before Lewis went to Rosemeade.

And Lakewood (Colo) Pottery (link) used Broadmoor molds and processes including glazes Lewis developed at Niloak.

Also Lakewood's founders had no experience making pottery and their early wares were equal to Broadmoor's. One would think they would need help replicating Broadmoor's process.

Howard Lewis

After Broadmoor folded Lewis returned to North Dakota. In 1944 he became plant manager at Rosemeade Pottery in Wahpeton.

Howard Lewis died in Fargo in 1993.

Jonathan Bowne Hunt (1876-1943)

At fifty nine Jonathan Hunt's experience in the business of pottery making must have benefited young Howard Erwin in the formation of Ames Pottery. 

Hunt threw for Rookwood Pottery almost twenty years earlier, followed Joseph Meyer as thrower for six years at Newcomb College and then threw pots for Haeger at their 1934 Worlds Fair exhibit in Chicago.

Jonathan Hunt ca 1938 photo

Hunt also traveled extensively lecturing on pottery. He knew Paul Cox at Iowa State ceramics who, by the way, years earlier helped Newcomb College develope of their soft glazes.

In the fall of 1937 Jonathan Hunt left Ames Pottery and headed west to work for Paul Genter at Broadmoor Pottery in Denver.

It's not clear when Howard Erwin left Ames Pottery to turn operations over to Bill Zinszer. Did he depart with Hunt in 1937, or stay on for another season or two? We don't know.

William "Karl" Zinszer

Next time we will talk about Ames Pottery glazes, marks and a few forms.

Please contact us if you have insights on this or other topics. Thank you.