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DON BLANDING
Vernon Kilns Dinnerware

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Photo courtesy of Dennis Donnal

     Vernon Kilns originated as the Poxon China Company of Vernon, California in 1916 by Englishman George J.W. Poxon, who catered to the popular lines of china such as were sold in chain stores. It's name was changed to Vernon China in later years, and in 1931 was bought out by Faye G. Bennison, who had previously been in the glass business in Los Angeles, and had sold out to Illinois Owens. Bennison again modified the name to Vernon Potteries, Ltd., and abandoned all of the Poxon lines. He began producing a better grade of pottery, and the new company braved the depression, earthquakes, and fires to become an industry leader.
     In 1936, Vernon Kilns of California hired celebrated painter and engraver Gale Turnbull as their art director. Turnbull had gained fame in Europe and America, and had already received recognition for his contributions to Leigh Potteries of Alliance, Ohio, and Sebring Pottery, of East Liverpool, Ohio. One of Turnbull's trademarks would be his emphasis of color in the Vernon Kilns lines, and a technique of underglaze printing, which would revolutionize the industry. In essence the design in color was applied on the "bisque" before the glaze was put on. The process involved etching the design photographically on copper cylinders which were then treated with chromium to make them hard and durable, and the design in oxide colors was then transferred to paper. This in turn went on the bisque (clay dishes) after they have first been fired at 2000 degrees. After the color was on, the paper was washed away, and the dishes were fired again at between 1900 and 1950 degrees. Because the designs were acid etched instead of hand etched, like the English method, the patterns were reproduced exactly as the artist created them in their studios.
     To capitalize on these unique production methods, Faye Bennison began hiring celebrated artists for Vernon Kilns new designs, and Turnball would travel around the country to supervise these productions. Among those artists hired were Walt Disney, Rockwell Kent and Don Blanding. As a result, Vernon Kilns began producing designs which were unique to the market, and had no equal for that time period.
     Blanding began designing for Vernon Kilns in the summer of 1938, and at the time was living in a redwood bungalow, which he owned, in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. He started with two designs: 'Hawaiian Flowers,' and 'Coral Reef,' and developed these stunning designs in the studio of his 'Vagabond's House.' Blanding produced some more designs in the fall of 1939, which were released in July of 1940. Eventually, he created four basic tropical designs, two floral and two with fish. The design colors were varied to create different pattern names ...a total of ten patterns in all.

   VERNONWARE DON BLANDING DESIGNS

   Hawaiian Flower - plain print in pink brown blue maroon or orange
   Honolulu - hand-tinted yellow flowers on blue print
   Hilo - hand-tinted light brown print
   Lei Lani, or Hawaii - Hand-tinted maroon print
   Glamour - a plain print in blue brown or maroon
   Joy - hand-tinted yellow camellia on light brown print
   Delight - hand-tinted yellow camellia on blue print
   Ecstasy - hand-tinted pink camellia on light brown print
   Coral Reef - plain print in blue maroon pink or orange
   Aquarium - hand-painted Tropical Fishes, different colors

One of the rarest Vernon Kilns Patterns to obtain,
Blanding's handpainted Aquarium design:
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Photo courtesy of Ray Vlach

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     Vernonware launched a national advertising campaign for the Don Blanding and Rockwell Kent designs in the Spring of 1939. They began promoting these dinnerware creations in national ads, especially women's magazines, and one of the first ads to appear was in the April 1939 issue of House and Garden. The lines were quite popular, and sold well into the late forties...each piece with the distinctive "Aloha, Don Blanding" marked on it's underside. Sales were helped by the judicious promotion of Woman's clubs nationwide, and a team of 30 Vernon Kilns salesmen, who placed the product in select stores throughout America, Canada and 16 foreign countries.
      Don Blanding's colorful Vernonware designs can still be found today, and have become highly desirable by collectors worldwide, often fetching extremely high prices in auctions and trade shows. Blanding's contribution to the field of dinnerware can not be underestimated.

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Original prices for Blanding Vernonware

(Ultra Design)
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For the ultimate reference guide, please refer to Collectible Vernon Kilns; an identification and value guide, by Maxine Feek Nelson, Collector Books, Paducah, KY

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Copyright ©2007 by Keith Emmons Design.  All rights reserved.