ROBERT MAXWELL: A CALIFORNIA ODYSSEY
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NS GUSTIN CO
After a suitable stoneware slip was developed, the ceramic beasties really caught on and became a very successful line for the business. The Gustin representation allowed the fledgling operation access to numerous department stores and gift shops nationwide. Prior to this, the Maxwells had to sell and distribute the product themselves and only within a limited geographic area. Because Robert had a pilot’s license, some of the early ware was delivered to its destination by plane and for a time he became known as the “flying potter.” His one-of-a-kind pieces were marketed through some of the finer stores in the country such as Gumps, Bloomingdales and Neiman Marcus. It is interesting to note that Maxwell’s Venice business was located directly across from the distinguished Charles & Ray Eames design studio. It was the Eames’ success with mass-produced modernist furnishings that helped pave the way for acceptance of the pots produced by Maxwell and others as proper accessories for the modern home.
NOEL OSHEROFF
Through his association with colleague David Cressey, Robert Maxwell became aware of the work of a talented local ceramist named Noel Osheroff, who was invited to create a series of models for the Maxwell line. For a limited time, castings of her distinctive human figures in intimate familial poses were produced in the Maxwell workshop and distributed by the Gustin Co.
U NAME IT
As the business grew, additional help was needed and at its peak six people—each having a specific duty—were employed. In 1964, a little book called U Name It  was published that showcased Maxwell’s offbeat sense of humor. It pictured his unusual animal sculptures in various arrangements along with humorous captions. The potter even appeared on the Steve Allen TV show to promote the book and present his curious creations to a wider audience.
Click for inside pictures  
Click on image for additional examples TREASURE CRAFT
In 1969, Al Levin of Treasure Craft of Compton approached Robert Maxwell with an ill-fated business proposition. Because the Venice quarters had become rather confining by then, the plan to purportedly unite his growing stoneware business with Levin’s considerable pottery establishment (as a separate division that later became known as Pottery Craft) was agreed to. Unfortunately the partnership soon soured as Levin demanded more and more control over the Maxwell operation. It is now believed that the sole reason for the merger was to acquire his working knowledge, clay body, glazes, glazing style, and master molds although the latter were evidently never used.
FALLBROOK STUDIO
Following the falling-out with Treasure Craft, the Maxwell husband and wife team started over. In 1970 they moved to Fallbrook, in north San Diego county. Their home-based Fallbrook business was located on an acre of property purchased there. The majority of the output at this time was handcrafted although a line of miniature slip-cast vases was produced for the gift shops at Disneyland. Robert Maxwell’s designs were clearly on the cutting edge so again success came easily with the help of a new Chicago-based representative.
The large vase in the back is for scale and the
smallest one is only 1 3/4" tall
EARTHGENDER
Just as the Fallbrook business had established a firm foundation, a new proposal was on the table. This time, it was friend David Cressey (recently resigned from his position with Architectural Pottery) who was advocating a merger with the Maxwell’s. His plan to manufacture large-scale contemporary planters much like the specialty of the Manhattan Beach pottery he had worked for, was approved and a new business christened “Earthgender” was established in an industrial area of El Segundo (near LAX.) The company would produce Robert Maxwell designs on a really big scale.
Despite the high hopes of both partners this new enterprise ultimately proved unsuccessful. One obstacle was the growing popularity of pre-cast concrete and light-weight fiberglass planters. However, the negative economic climate of the mid-70s was the major factor that led to the closing of Earthgender in only its 4th year of operation.
TURNING POINT
In 1992, following an interim in sales, Robert Maxwell spotted a small classified ad placed in the LA Times by the Ramona Convent Secondary School of Alhambra. This private all-girl high school was seeking both a ceramics and calligraphy instructor—two subjects that Maxwell was well-qualified to teach. He was immediately hired and credits this turn of events as “a turning point.”

ROMONA CONVENT
Robert Maxwell remains on the faculty at Ramona Convent and continues to be productive, making unique handcrafted objects when time permits. Many of them continue the design traditions he established in the 60s & 70s. Due to my close association with him in recent years coupled with years of collecting his vintage pottery, I believe Maxwell is a more accomplished and prolific potter today. An extended period of teaching has only solidified his design principals and helped hone his skills.
Click on image for additional pictures



TIMELINE
-Continued-


1964
U Name It: Sculptures by Robert Maxwell is published




1964
Featured guest on the Steve Allen Show




1964

Molded vinyl toys called “Stickie Ickies” based on the Maxwell critters are produced for one season by the Ohio Art Co




1970-71
Ill-fated alliance with Treasure Craft in Compton




1971-73
Studio pottery located in Fallbrook




1973-77
Earthgender business in partnership with David Cressey located in El Segundo




1977-92
Sales work




1992-
Ceramics and calligraphy teacher at Ramona Convent Secondary School of Alhambra. Studio pottery resumed.