The Art(us) of Van Briggle

Artus Van Briggle made beauty out of dirt, but it was a grim diagnosis of tuberculosis that led him to Colorado Springs—and the discovery that perfected his craft.

After training in Paris as a renowned young painter, Van Briggle returned to Ohio to pursue his true artistic love: pottery. But at just 30, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, a literal death sentence in the 19th century, when TB was one of the leading causes of death in America. Like thousands of others who heard about Colorado Springs’ “100 percent aseptic air,” mineral water and year-round sunshine, Van Briggle moved from Cincinnati in 1899 to seek a cure in the Pikes Peak region.

Serendipitously, the clay Van Briggle found in Colorado was exactly what he needed to create the signature “dead” matte-finish glaze of his pottery. Shortly after his arrival, he experimented with a mineralogy expert and a professor of chemistry and metallurgy at Colorado College to discover the perfect formula. The hours of artfully scientific work paid off, and within the next four years—the last of his short lifetime—Van Briggle created vessels that still carry international renown today. His widow, Anne, continued to run the pottery and help secure its legacy as, what New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art calls, “one of America’s most important and longest lasting art potteries.

By The Numbers

Artus Van Briggle’s age when his painting was displayed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair

The year Van Briggle went to Paris’ Julian School of Art

Estimated annual American tuberculosis related deaths in the 1800s

Total Van Briggle designs created between 1898 and 1912

Height in inches of the Lorelei vase, now at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City

Selling price for a Van Briggle vase at a 2017 auction

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