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Cool Things - Dryden Pottery

Dryden 
pitchers

This Kansas pottery called its products "a melody in glaze."

The G.I. Bill has helped many a veteran. One Kansan put its benefits to good use, creating a popular pottery business with the imaginative slogan, "A Melody in Glaze."

James Dryden was born at Englewood, Kansas, in 1917, but the family moved around until they reached Ellsworth 10 years later. There, Jim's father settled into the hardware business.

Jim Dryden showed an early interest in art, took classes, and aspired to be a professional cartoonist. He succeeded in selling some cartoons to Capper's Weekly, a nationally circulated Topeka newspaper. He also showed an interest in pottery, but World War II intervened before he could concentrate on any one career. Like many young men of his time, Dryden was drafted into the army and served his country.

Clay found in the Ellsworth vicinity showed promise for the production of ceramics. Although it was too gummy, the addition of volcanic ash--also found near Ellsworth--helped make the clay useful for pottery. Jim Dryden foresaw the possibilities and, after the war, used his benefits from the G. I. Bill to enroll in a crash course on ceramics at the University of Kansas. In addition, he took two years of chemistry from the University of Illinois.

Dryden label

After his coursework, Jim took out a loan through the G.I. Bill to start his business. Dryden Pottery opened in Ellsworth in 1946 with a kiln, a government surplus Quonset hut, and a barracks building from Walker Army Air Field near Hays.

Dryden made ceramics that were considered art pottery, but also advertising materials and tourist wares. Pieces imprinted with special logos and marks were commissioned by businesses and organizations around the country. The company's signature piece is a Grecian pitcher (above) still being produced today.

Jim Dryden did well in Ellsworth, but after ten years in Kansas he began looking for another location--one that would attract more tourists. Hot Springs, Arkansas, piqued his interest because it had the same resources needed for the pottery business (i.e., quality clay) and was an established tourist town. Another factor in Dryden's decision was that plans for the new Interstate 70 indicated it would bypass Ellsworth to the north, diverting any potential tourist traffic well away from the town. In 1956 Dryden moved his pottery to Hot Springs, where it continues to operate today.

In 2008, fifty Dryden pieces from the Ellsworth plant were donated to the Kansas Museum of History by G.L. Dybwad and Joy V. Bliss, authors of a definitive history on the company, Dryden Pottery of Kansas and Arkansas.

View a selection of other Dryden pieces in the Museum's collection:

Listen to the Dryden Pottery podcast  Play Audio Tour

Entry: Cool Things - Dryden Pottery

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: September 2008

Date Modified: December 2014

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.