Celebrating a Decade of Dishing Delights!
HLCCA's Tenth Anniversary Conference
by Kathy Holley & Saarin Schwartz,
from Vol. 11, No. 1, Fall 2008 issue of The Dish
According to Emily Post, the traditional gift for the 10th anniversary is tin. You wouldn't have known that from all the pottery being given away at the 10th Anniversary Conference of the HLCCA, held this past July 17-20 in Minneapolis, MN. Members from all across the country met for a weekend celebration that sparkled with eye-popping color, and offered non-stop dishing delights.
There was some tin in evidence at the opening night mixer, where HLCCA board member and Kansas resident Susan Tucker had wrapped herself in tin foil for her appearance as the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz.” To recognize the Association’s coast-to-coast membership, guests were invited to arrive in attire representing their states. Besides the Tin Man (and fellow Kansan Kim Jones, who came dressed as Dorothy and handed out packets of sunflower seeds) there was an array of creative costumes including New Yorker Merrill Miller’s Statue of Liberty, Sheri Wadkins’ Mississippi Belle, and Kathy Holley’s Wisconsin dairy queen — complete with cheese-head and cow-print vest, bearing trays of genuine Wisconsin cheese. Many other members took up the challenge and arrived in a variety of state-themed garb: hats, t-shirts, aprons and more. And the state-to-state theme was carried a step further, with a competition challenging attendees to gather signatures from representatives of as many other states as possible.
Games and activities featured a mix of old and new. Popular events from previous conferences over the past decade were reprised, such as “Pin the Handle on the Demipot,” bobbing for shakers, “Pirate Scavenger Hunt Bingo” and others. Mysterious and exotic Mme. LaVerte, the Green Medium, made her way north from New Orleans and offered dish-themed tarot card readings in a candlelit cabana, with a long line all evening. And collectors got to test their dish knowledge in a game show-style competition, “Lightning Round.” Pottery prizes aplenty were available for winners of the games. But the real point of the evening was to give everyone a time to relax, chat and connect with their collector friends.
Friday morning found conference attendees boarding a big yellow school bus like happy children on a field trip. The site they were about to visit had been dubbed “3M”—Mutchler’s Minnesota Museum—also known simply as “Fred’s house.” Fred Mutchler—longtime Minneapolis resident, Conference 2008 chair, and serious HLC collector— graciously opened his home to busloads of eager dishers who were treated to a hands-on tour of his extensive collections. Beautifully displayed in the Mutchlers’ multi-level home, an amazing collection spanning the entire history of the Homer Laughlin China Company was available for viewing, touching, and coveting by the wide-eyed crowd. Each room revealed new opportunities to gasp and gape—Fiesta, Harlequin, Riviera and Kitchen Kraft dinnerwares were all there in abundance, as well as many other HLC lines, original ads and other ephemera, and some truly museum-worthy early HLC pieces.
One of the fascinating displays was a section of wall insulation that Fred had uncovered while remodeling. The original home-made insulation contained among its layers full-page vintage newspaper advertisements. Some of Fred’s treasured Fiesta ensemble ads were unearthed as a result of this home remodel. Among the wall cases and period display cabinets loaded with seldom-seen colorware was another highlight of the house tour— a showcase containing Fred’s three magnificent Pâte-Sur-Pâte perfume jars, created at Homer Laughlin in the mid-1880s.
Fred’s charming wife and daughter were on hand to greet the guests and offer refreshments, and there was even a bowlful of clean socks available for anyone who cared to help with the monumental task of dusting a collection of such vast proportions. Available for hours to discuss his finds and favorites, Fred’s generosity was not limited to20just showing his collection—he literally shared it! Upon arrival, each visitor was encouraged to choose one of the hundreds of HLC souvenir ashtrays that Fred has accumulated in his years of collecting, and just about everyone left with a special memento of their visit.
Back at the hotel Friday afternoon, attendees took part in a mix of informative and entertaining seminars. Board member Jerry Lefever displayed his extensive knowledge and collection of china premiums produced by HLC. These are premiums that were given away in connection with a purchase of food, soap or even movie tickets. Jerry displayed not only the dishware, but often vintage examples of the product packages that contained the free china. While Carnival, found in Mother’s Oats, is probably the best-known line of HLC premium china, Jerry also had information about Trellis, Tudor Rose, Pastoral, Golden Wheat, Modern Star, Oven Serve and many more. (He also displayed his china and its packaging as a non-judged exhibit on Saturday.)
Jerry enjoys seeking out these lesser-known dishes that were once given away for free. “It’s a reminder of thriftier times,” he said. “In addition, premiums were an important part of HLC’s history and business.”
Then it was time for the popular “C’mon Over to My Place” session. Two presenters shared visual tours of their homes and collections this year. Former HLCCA officer Steve Douglas and his partner Terry Brennan led us in a photographic walk through their new Kentucky home. Steve’s collection started with his grandmother’s Fiesta dishes, but has grown to include many HLC lines. But he’s perhaps best known for his enviable collection of World’s Fair pottery. The presentation included photos of their Mission style furniture, museum-quality displays, and Tiger, their careful cat who moved gracefully among the pottery but never broke a piece!
Next up was R.J. (Richard) Wright, who has made pottery more than just part of his décor—it was part of his recent courtship and wedding! R.J., known to the online community as “FiestaPenguin” told of how the deal-breaker on his first date with his eventual bride, Renee, (a.k.a. Miss Penguin) was “whether or not she could tolerate Fiesta.”
After a few years of dating and dishing, the couple tied the knot in a cozy, outdoor cere mony in June. They incorporated a mix of vintage and contemporary HLC ware in their celebration, in shades of lilac, heather and plum. Two reproduction Harlequin penguins topped their wedding cake. The reception food was served from and on Fiesta—with no breakage. The couple had a decal featuring two penguins created and put on Fiesta bud vases that guests got to take home as a memento of the special day. The decal was also used on a large pizza tray that guests signed with permanent markers in lieu of a guest book.
R.J. shared photos of both the wedding and their Wisconsin home, which showcases an ever-expanding collection of vintage and contemporary Fiesta and other HLC ware.
The afternoon of seminars wrapped up with the annual “Conversation with HLC”, presented by HLC’s Director of Retail Sales and Marketing Dave Conley.
After spending much of the day seeing other people’s finds, the crowd was in a buying mood Friday night for the annual HLCCA auction. First time auctioneer Jeff Kolodey kept the action moving through more than 200 lots of pottery, ephemera and conference mementos. It was great fun to watch the items that contributing collectors considered unwanted change hands and become prized treasures for others. A break for a dessert buffet kept everyone sugared-up and eager to bid. More than a dozen different lines of HLC ware—from the familiar to the obscure—were represented among the auction offerings. The dishes were top-quality and represented sought-after shapes—no stacks of chipped and scratched plates here! And there were things for every price range as well, from a couple of lots that went for $2 to a top bid of $1,700 (for a guaranteed vintage gray Fiesta juice pitcher.)
On Saturday morning, the giddy dish campers were tingling with anticipation. Even though the Show & Sale opened an hour earlier than usual this year, there was still a strong showing of early birds lined up and eagerly waiting for the doors to open at 8 a.m. For first-time Conference attendees, the first glimpse into the Show & Sale room is an awesome sight. To enter a large ballroom filled to the brim with colorful HLC dishes can take one’s breath away. Dealers from all over the country offered vintage Fiesta, Harlequin, and Riviera dinnerwares, Kitchen Kraft and OvenServe, Epicure, Kenilworth and much, much more. There were contemporary collectibles, Laughlin Art China, decalware, go-alongs, and glassware. There was truly something for every collector of=2 0HLC ware.
The HLCCA once again sponsored a table with members’ consignment pieces, plus note cards and photographs. Several shoppers marveled that they were, for the first time, seeing and holding dishes that they had previously only seen in pictures. One first-timer gushed happily that she had “never seen so much Fiesta ware in one place” before. And there were some rare sights for even the most experienced collector, such as Linda Riendeau’s footed ivory French casserole that she found at a flea market in Florida (not for sale!). Business was brisk as deals were struck, dishes were wrapped, and satisfied shoppers carted bags and boxes back to their rooms.
Meanwhile, next door to the Show & Sale, the Exhibits room was abuzz with activity, being readied for viewing first by the judges and then by the rest of the group. Exhibits comprised both judged and non-judged displays, and the offerings this year were varied and exciting. The expanse of the ballroom revealed a colorful sea of dishware from Margaret Denlinger’s charming children’s dishes to Dennis Stasiak’s jaw-dropping Riviera collection. Jerry Lefever had two exhibits this year—an array of premium ware and the original boxes they came in, plus an additional exhibit of “Serene Serenade.” Jennifer Flory’s creative display illustrated the history of HLC’s connection with the 1950s television show “The Big Payoff,” complete with a vintage turquoise TV! Fred Mutchler celebrated the Association’s tenth anniversary with ten notable pieces from HLC’s history, including his three mammoth perfume jars, reunited at last. Each exhibit contained detailed historical information, and exhibitors were on hand to answer questions and explain the fine points of their displays.
Continuing a tradition begun at Conference 2007, there was once again a competitive exhibit of floral arrangements in HLC containers, with the winning display chosen by ballot. The floral displays ranged from elegant to fanciful, and one exhibitor, Rebecca Donaldson, even created her flowers out of shards of HLC pottery! Balloting was also held for the “People’s Choice” exhibit award, and ribbons for the judged pottery exhibits were awarded by a team of judges who also chose a Grand Award winner that was announced later that night.
Attendees were on their own Saturday afternoon for relaxation, sight-seeing or still more shopping at Minneapolis’ famed Mall of America, or antique stores in neighboring comm unities. It seems that HLC collectors can never get enough of antiquing! For many who live in areas where finding treasures “in the wild” is a rare occurrence, it was a special treat to see booth after booth filled with our favorite dishes and other vintage ware.
That evening, it was time to celebrate at the Awards Banquet and Auction. The red, white, blue and gold décor used throughout the Conference was evident in the dinner decorations. Each attendee received a disk pitcher with the commemorative Conference logo, and the gift of a “First Fire Ivory” ornament from HLC. They will also receive a cobalt ornament with a special “10th Anniversary Conference” decal from the HLCCA. In addition, each person at the table received another prize: a presentation bowl with Conference logo, vases, Betty Crocker holiday decal vegetable bowls and spoon rests (donated by Jim and Jan VanHoven), trivets, demi cup sets, small pie bakers, or a gift certificate for that evening’s auction.
The nostalgic theme of the weekend continued, with the fifth annual exchange of special trading cards related to this year’s Conference, followed by a PowerPoint presentation from Kit Fox, recapping the first ten years of the HLCCA. Af ter dinner the awards for this year’s achievements were presented. Very special recognition and a rousing ovation were given to HLC’s Dave Conley and Art Director Judi Noble for their many generous contributions to the success of the organization.
With the move to the HLCCA’s next decade, the organization’s annual offering of commemorative juice pitchers also entered a new decade. The first pitcher for the 1940s was unveiled: a stylized Uncle Sam in his famous “I Want You” pose in red, white and blue on ivory. The pitcher will be available to all HLCCA members later this year.
Then it was auction time again, with almost 100 lots of unique items and all proceeds benefiting the HLCCA. Jeff grabbed his gavel again, and banquet-goers bid fast and furious for prototype pieces, bound volumes of The Dish, one-of-a-kind artwork, Conference exclusives from previous years and other collectibles. It may have been the HLCCA’s tenth birthday, but everyone at the banquet left with their arms full of “presents.”
Anniversary gift-giving continued at brunch on Sunday morning. A seemingly endless supply of post-86 mugs, spoon rests, platters, mini pitchers, candleholders, and ramekins were given away, as well as pounds and pounds of leftover red, white, and blue jellybeans. It was impossible to leave without having won several prizes. Absolutely no one leaves an HLCCA conference empty-handed!
Wrapping things up with the annual HLCCA business meeting, board President Sandra Bond announced the election of new board member Pat Keith, who will also serve as Secretary of the association. Continuing in their offices are Vice President Kit Fox, Treasurer Merrill Miller, and Editor David Schaefer. Rounding out the Board of Directors are members Michael Bailey, Jerry Lefever, Richard Mayberry, and Susan Tucker. The Association is in good fiscal shape, and will once again make a significant contribution to the “Dollars for Scholars” fund.
The success of every Conference depends on the hard work of many people. Fred Mutchler was acknowledged for his outstanding job as chair of Conference 2008, as were Sid and Maryann Cannon for their important role as organizers of the two auctions. Thanks were extended as well to all the volunteers who helped make the 10th Anniversary Conference an event to remember.
Leave-taking is always difficult, but it is made easier by promises to meet again. Seeing old friends and meeting new ones is one of the great pleasures of these annual dish gatherings. Conference 2009 will be back in Pittsburgh, with the precise dates in July to be announced. One thing is for certain—the traditional 11th anniversary gift, at least for HLCCA Conference-goers, will once again be pottery! Join us next year for a weekend in Homer heaven.