Edgerton plaza to honor local pottery maker

Edgerton is planning a landscaped plaza at City Hall downtown as a public space and a visual homage to renowned artistic work once made in Edgerton: Pauline pottery.
By Neil Johnson

EDGERTON—The city of Edgerton is looking to dress up the lawn at City Hall with a landscaped homage to a nationally renowned local pottery icon.

Think pottery-themed sculptures, stylized stone walkways and earthen mounds designed to look like globs of clay that fly from a potter's wheel.

It's all part of conceptual plans for a public-private project to turn the lot on the southwest corner of Fulton and Albion streets into “Pottery Plaza”—a landscaped park honoring the work of famed Edgerton pottery artist Pauline Jacobus.

The plaza is still in the planning stages, and construction wouldn't start until next year, but City Administrator Ramona Flanigan said plans are to turn the half–acre lot into a public park with landscaping, trees, native grasses, stone walkways and sculptures that would highlight Pauline pottery and serve as a public space.

The lot, which once housed a parking lot for the former City Hall, has little landscaping and city crews are still working to establish grass there.

Flanigan said the city has had plans to turn the lot into a public park or plaza since the new City Hall was completed in 2011.  

Residents have rallied around the idea of a plaza that would honor the history of pottery in Edgerton, she said.

The council had authorized spending last year for schematic drawings and plans for the park. Flanigan said design work is about 95 percent complete.

Preliminary estimates for the project are about $150,000, although a large portion could be paid through private fundraising and donations of material and labor by local residents.

Pauline pottery was produced in Edgerton in the late 1800s by trained pottery artist Pauline Jacobus and a small team of pottery decorators. Local history records show Jacobus located in Edgerton because the area had natural deposits of light-colored clay that is ideal for pottery making.    

Pauline Pottery's simple, glazed design with signature floral decorations was popular nationwide. At the time, it sold at top-end merchants such as Tiffany's in New York and Marshall Field's in Chicago, according to local history records.

Pauline pottery now is rare and difficult to find. It's treasured by collectors and can fetch hundreds of dollars for a single piece.

So far, Flanigan said, the commitment from private residents has been “substantial,” including at least 20 residents who say they'll help fund and build the park.

“I am amazed at the number of people that have come forward we haven't needed to pursue any aggressive public campaign for general donations. People so far have just stepped up,” Flanigan said.

She said people offering to fund the project range from artists to contractors to private donors.

She said there have been offers from private sources to donate everything from stone and boulders to concrete and the installation of irrigation equipment. She said one person wants to donate metal for an artist to weld a giant sculpture reminiscent of a classic Pauline flower vase.

Any amount not covered by private funds would be paid with money from the city's downtown tax increment financing district.

Flanigan said it's not yet clear how much the city's share could be.

“We're at a very fluid point in the project,” Flanigan said about costs and donations. “For some of the stuff, we've said, 'Don't bother estimating it. We're not going to bid it because we've got volunteers,'" Flanigan said.

Dr. Mark Irgens, a local dentist involved in the project, told The Gazette this week a core group of volunteers still are working hard to see that much of the project is handled through private funding and donated material and labor.

He declined to give specifics, saying it could be a few weeks before the volunteer group and the city reach some agreements on how major portions of the project could be handled.

In any case, the city and residents involved have time to shore up funding for the project.  

Flanigan said work would not start on the plaza until spring 2014, pending approval by the council of a final project plan and any potential costs the city would need to absorb.

Flanigan said among ideas still being discussed is a plan for interpretive plaques or signs that explain to residents and visitors the park's connection to Pauline pottery.