The donation of a Nebraska couple’s private stash, 5,000 pieces worth around $1.5 million, motivated the all-volunteer Red Wing Pottery Foundation to successfully relocate and expand the museum into the longtime factory’s annex. It is near the kilns that used to transform clay to vessels that held coffee cream to casseroles.
The holdings of Jerry and Louise Schleich included a 70-gallon crock that Red Wing made for the 1923 Minnesota State Fair, and other one-of-a-kind items. Their generosity doubles the value of museum inventory.
“It took six men to move,” says Robin Wipperling, museum manager, about the hefty crock. Items from other collectors find their way here, too.
The pottery manufacturer began business in 1877, stoneware was added in 1906 and pottery production ended in 1967. Besides dinnerware, Robin says factory employees made art pottery during shift breaks or other spare time.
We collect items as a hobby, a challenge, an investment or a way to preserve a cherished, personal part of our past. For some of us, this is fun that stays private. Others seek like-minded collectors who become friends or soul mates.
The Red Wing Collectors Society – which began in 1977 and has 17 chapters nationwide – makes a Minnesota pilgrimage annually. It is an organization with a hall of fame and the backbone to form the nonprofit foundation that led to this museum’s expansion.
“Our brains are designed to forage,” says a recent Psychology Today article about collecting. “In the state of nature, you have to keep seeking and finding to survive. A momentary thrill is released when you find what you need …”
In this case, I think we go beyond that. One example: At redwingcollectors.org is a free “ask the experts” service, for people with pottery questions. Check the archives first: More than 20,000 questions have already been answered.
Red Wing Pottery Museum, 240 Harrison St., is closed on Mondays. Admission is free. A gift shop sells vintage items; proceeds assist museum operations. redwingpotterymuseum.org, 651-327-2220
Short tours of the Red Wing Stoneware factory, 4909 Moundview Dr., happen on weekdays and cost $3. redwingstoneware.com, 651-388-4610
Visitors can watch a potter at work at the Red Wing Pottery Salesroom, 1920 W. Main St. 651-388-3562
One of the city’s fun places to find rare and vintage Red Wing clay and stone items is Larry’s Jugs, 1811 Old W. Main St.: The antiques store specializes in vintage pottery, and owner Larry Peterson was a key player in the museum expansion project. larrysjugs.com, 651-388-3331
The area also is home to Red Wing Shoe Factory, which began making footwear in 1905. Visit the flagship Red Wing Shoe Store and Museum, 315 Main St. Free factory tours happen on Friday mornings. redwing.redwingshoestore.com, 651-388-6233
For other ideas about why to visit Red Wing, population 16,500, consult redwing.org, 800-498-3444.
Who shows a passion for collecting in Wisconsin? Let me know what you would add to my top 10 list of personal collections that turned into public attractions.
Angel Museum, 656 Pleasant St., Beloit – Joyce Berg’s flea market finds (13,800 items, from many countries) and 600 black angels donated by Oprah Winfrey fill a converted Catholic church. It’s the world’s largest angel collection, says the Guinness Book of World Records. Open since 1998; $7 admission. angelmuseum.org, 608-362-9099
Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass, 165 N. Park Ave., Neenah – Evangeline Bergstrom’s 650 glass paperweights are the foundation for a collection that now exceeds 3,000 objects. Open since 1959; free admission. bergstrom-mahlermuseum.com, 920-751-4658
Castlerock Museum, 402 S. Second St., Alma – The arms and armor collection of retired judge Gary Schlosstein spans 2,000 years and is kept in a two-story building that resembles a castle. Open since 2008; $6. castlerockmuseum.com, 608-685-4231
Grohmann Museum, 1000 N. Broadway St., Milwaukee – In a three-story Milwaukee School of Engineering building are 1,000 pieces of art showing humans at work, from 1580 to now. The collector is Eckhart Grohmann. Open since 2007; $5. msoe.edu, 414-277-2300
House on the Rock, 5754 Hwy. 23, Spring Green – The late Alex Jordan’s penchant for eclectic collections – carousel animals, dollhouses, santas – makes this one of Wisconsin’s most unusual attractions. Open since 1960; $28.50. thehouseontherock.com, 608-935-3639
James Newman Clark Bird Museum, Phillips Science Hall, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire – At least 500 species from the 1870s to 1920s were the taxidermy projects of a farmer and bird hobbyist who died in 1928. Donated in 1959; free. uwec.edu/biology/facilities.htm, 715-836-3523
Museum of Woodcarving, 539 Hwy. 63, Shell Lake – Joseph T. Barta began whittling with a butcher knife at age 14 and carved 100 human-sized sculptures by the time he died in 1972. That includes a “Last Supper” scene, other biblical themes and 400 smaller works. Open since 1951; $6.50. 715-468-7100
National Mustard Museum, 7477 Hubbard Ave., Middleton – Longtime attorney Barry Levenson’s love of mustard includes a collection of 5,600, plus a Poupon U merchandise line and hundreds of mustards for sale. For more fun and games, visit on National Mustard Day, Aug. 2. Open since 1992; free. mustardmuseum.com, 608-831-222
Sila Lydia Bast Bell Museum, W18780 Holy Hill Rd., Germantown – In a renovated 1870 barn are 5,000 bells from all over the world; the biggest is a 1,063-pound model in the bell tower, a former silo. Open since 2000; $6. bastbellmuseum.com, 262-628-3170
World of Accordions Museum, 1401 Belknap St., Superior – In a former Presbyterian church are at least 1,700 simple to complex versions of the squeezebox, a 1,000-seat concert hall and area to repair accordions. It all began with Helmi Harrington’s curiosity, investments and mentoring. Open since 2004; $10. accordionworld.org, 715-395-2787