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Potter Art Iron Studios Collection

Bywaters Special Collections, Hamon Arts Library

About the Collection

[Wall-Mounted Crystal Urn Pendant with Baroque Leaf Motif and Fleur-de-lis and Gemstone Accents], 1947, Potter Art Iron Studios

The Potter Art Iron Studios Collection consists of 1,745 shop drawings, layouts, and related materials for the studios' work from the 1920s to the 1960s. This collection is one of the few remaining that documents the importance of the blacksmith as a worker in metal, producing decorative architectural pieces, primarily with the forge, anvil, and hammer.

The Potter Art Iron Studios (also known as the Potter Art Metal Studios) worked with many of the architectural firms that shaped some of Dallas’ oldest and best-known residential areas, such as Lakewood, Preston Hollow, and the Park Cities. These firms included those of Fooshee and Cheek, C.D. Hutsell, and David R. Williams, which had launched the career of noted Texas architect O’Neil Ford. Decorative ironwork also was fashioned for North Texas residences, churches, businesses, and institutions, including the Dallas Little Theatre, Southern Methodist University, Highland Park Shopping Village, Highland Park United Methodist Church, and Highland Park Presbyterian Church.

The collection was donated to the Bywaters Special Collections at the Hamon Arts Library in 1992 by SMU alumna Eva Morgan, daughter of Henry Potter, founder of the Potter Art Iron Studios.

The subject matter of the designs includes lighting fixtures, balconies, grills, stair rails, andirons, fire screens, weather vanes, fences, gates, and furniture, primarily in iron or bronze.

Bywaters digital collections are part of CUL Digital Collections, which contain thousands of digitized photographs, manuscripts, imprints, and works of art held by SMU's Central University Libraries special collections.  

About Henry Potter and the Potter Art Iron Studios

[Mailbox in Shape of House], 1945, Potter Art Iron Studios

Henry Cornwell Potter (1892-1971) started his business career as a salesman of tires at Maxwell Automobiles and at Sampson motor trucks in Fort Worth. During World War I, Potter served as a civilian flight instructor and became so intrigued with aviation that he built a biplane. However, such interests were mere offshoots of his first love, that of working with iron and other metals.

In 1905, when electric lighting was supplanting gaslights, 12-year-old Henry Potter had started making small metal lanterns. Two years later he began to work under the tutelage of German craftsman Alfred Tetze, his only formal instruction in metal work. Not until he turned 30 years old, however, did he begin to pursue his hobby as a craft. In 1922 Potter set up a workshop in his Dallas garage with a nine-dollar forge and a ten-dollar anvil. The small, ornate wrought iron lanterns that he turned out in his garage, one of which was hung on the front porch of his home, soon attracted the attention of friends and neighbors, who commissioned Potter to make lanterns for them.

Potter's “big break” occurred when his wife showed one of these lanterns to a buyer at Sanger Brothers Department Store in Dallas. Impressed, the buyer placed an order for 100 lanterns. Mr. Potter protested to his wife that he could not produce that many lanterns. She insisted that he could, and, as their daughter recalled, “urged him to get some help and turn them out as fast as possible.” This commission began the business that in due course became known as Potter Art Iron Studios, and later called the Potter Art Metal Studios.

[Ceiling Fan with Art Deco style hanging light fixture], 1931, Potter Art Iron Studios

By 1924 the business’s growth necessitated that Potter move it from his garage. He settled on a 40-foot by 100-foot steel shed with a stucco front located at 2927 North Henderson Avenue, a short distance from his home. Potter executed his original designs in this studio shop, assisted by some 15 craftsmen, most of whom he had trained himself. Potter also taught metal work at the Dallas Art Institute from 1924 to 1928. By the late 1920s the business had grown to the point that an artist was required to render shop drawings and layouts. At this time, Henry Potter’s first cousin, Billy Potter, joined the firm as resident artist, serving in that capacity for 25 years; his works comprise the art holdings of the Potter Art Iron Studios Collection. His work as resident artist was interrupted only during World War II, when the shop was converted to a plant making aluminum parts for military aircraft.

Potter Art Iron Studios was, in great measure, a family business. “Mr. Henry,” as he was known affectionately to friends and colleagues, was the principal designer of the products, but in addition to his cousin, his father, brother, son, and daughter also worked in the studio. His wife’s role in launching the business was also indispensable, and she continued throughout her life as an advisor and enthusiastic promoter. Most recently, “Mr. Henry’s” grandson, Richard Joseph Potter, having inherited his grandfather’s gift of creative work with his hands, carried on the family tradition of finely crafted metal work at a location adjacent to the original shop on North Henderson until the studio closed in 2014.

Holdings and Highlights

The Potter Art Iron Studios collection contains hundreds of drawings. Recurring subjects in the drawings include the following:

[Modern Rectangular Patio Table and Chair Set with Mesh Motif], 1952, Potter Art Iron Studios

You can also view each box of drawings: Box 01, Box 02, Box 03, Box 04, Box 05, Box 06, Box 07, Box 08, Box 09, Box 10, Box 11, Box 12, Box 13, Box 14, Box 15, Box 16, Box 17, Box 18, Box 19, Box 20, Box 21, Box 22, Box 23, Box 24, Box 25.

[Patio Chair and Footstool with Cushions, Maple Leaf Motif, and Scrollwork Accents], 1941, Potter Art Iron Studios

Digital Collections Guidelines and Procedures

Items in Central University Library Digital Collections are digitized following the SMU Central University Libraries Digitization Guidelines and Procedures. Digital collections are created under the guidelines of the CUL Digital Collections: Filenaming, Workflow, and Metadata Guidelines, or through specialized metadata profiles tailored for the collection.

Usage

Copyright usage terms vary throughout the collection. Each item contains information about usage terms. If SMU does not have the right to publish the item on the Internet, only the item's metadata will be available and the digitized object will be available on a restricted access basis. Such items may only be viewed on campus. When items are available for use, please cite Bywaters Special Collections, Southern Methodist University when using this file. For more information contact bywatersspecialcollections@smu.edu.

Contact Info

For more information about the collection, please contact bywatersspecialcollections@smu.edu.