A History of the Pillin Pottery Company

The story of Pillin Pottery is really the story of Polia Pillin herself. She was born Polia Sukonic in Poland in 1909. She immigrated to the United States in 1924 at the age of 15. She made her home in Chicago, and worked long hours in the garment district. She spent her evenings at the local Jewish Peoples Institute learning both painting and sculpture. In 1927 she met William Pillin, a Ukrainian immigrant who was just one year younger than Polia. Before that year was out they were married.

William had always had hopes of becoming a published poet, and his opportunity came during the Depression. He was hired through the WPA Writers Project, and his work brought him all across the United States. In 1936, they moved to an undeveloped 16 acre property in the Espaniola Valley near Albequerque. The living conditions here harsh and primitive, but they found the isolation inspiring. But with the arrival of their son in 1940, the Pillins saw a need to return to civilization, and they moved back to Chicago.

William quickly found a position in the book business which brought in enough money to support the family. This allowed Polia the opportunity to explore her art, mostly paintings with watercolors or oils. Her work slowly began to become noticed, and she displayed a one-woman show at the Chicago Art Institute. It was during her showing there that she noticed pottery on display, and became fascinated by the medium.

Aside from the night classes Polia had taken in the late 1920's, the only other formal training she recieved was in Chicago at the Hull House in 1946. She took a six-week course in ceramics there, and fired pieces in their kilns until it was shut down. She then moved her fledgling pottery business to their apartment, with a pottery wheel and an improvised kiln in the kitchen. There was nowhere near the space required for a pottery business, so in 1948 the Pillins moved to Los Angeles. There they purchased a modest home with a garage. In this garage, Polia taught William how to throw and form pottery and the Pillin Art Pottery Company was born.

Polia made her last known piece in 1991, a year before her death in 1992. William had died years earlier in 1985. No production records were ever kept, and most pieces were unique, so no catalog of her work will ever be compete. The total output of pottery from Polia is hard to even estimate, but certainly no more than 10,000 total. The actual number is probably much lower.

The body of work from Pillin Pottery often depicts women, fish, horses, and other animals. Her work has been described as Byzantine in style, with similarities to the work of Chagall. But of course, the work of Polia Pillin is flavored with her own unique artistic vision.

Today, pottery from Polia Pillin is becomeing increasingly scarce as collectors snatch up examples as often as they appear. With great appeal to decorators of mid-century modern styles, the prices have been driven upward sharply. Her unique style is striking a chord with collectors, and helping to establish the Pillin Art Pottery as one of the premiere studio art potterys in the United States in the the 20th Century.