Shining A Light On Marshall Studios

Seven decades ago, a small-town Indiana couple designed some of the most beautiful modernist lamps and furniture on the planet—only to be forgotten upon retirement. This fall, a new generation of Hoosiers will revive the Marshall Studios brand with an auction in Paris. As you’ll see in these photos, it’s a collection too beautiful to remain in the dark.

October 2018Add a comment

Sometime in the next few months, three men from Indianapolis will auction off several dozen midcentury-modern lamps and pieces of furniture in Paris. That’s remarkable in itself. Equally incredible is the story behind it.

Incised Lamps — After returning to Veedersburg to work for Jane’s parents, the Martzes initially made tableware—candy dishes, salt shakers, and the like. But it was probably inevitable that they would eventually make lamp bases to accompany Marshall Studios lampshades. This pair features handmade incisions by Gordon Martz.

The tale begins in 2001, when architect Craig McCormick made a “random” stop in Veedersburg, Indiana, on his way to Illinois. McCormick, a midcentury-modern enthusiast, had recently started collecting the work of a Veedersburg-based company called Marshall Studios. The business had shut down nearly 20 years earlier; McCormick was curious if anything remained of its factory.

What he found surprised him. “It was abandoned, but all of the company catalogs and information were still there,” he says. McCormick’s discovery sparked a 15-year effort to restore the legacy of Marshall Studios—and, in particular, the work of its notable ceramicists Gordon and Jane Martz.

Jane Marshall—whose grandmother founded Marshall Studios in 1922—married Gordon Martz in 1951, a year before the couple graduated from New York’s Alfred University. They returned to Veedersburg to work in the family business, bringing with them a passion for contemporary hand-designed stoneware.

The Martzes’ work transformed Marshall Studios. What had been a lampshade manufacturing company became a hotbed of handcrafted modern lamps and accessories. Their work was even featured in New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1953. But as the popularity of modernist design waned in the ’70s and ’80s—and as big-box stores began to dominate the retail landscape—Marshall Studios mostly faded from public view.

Midcentury-modern made a comeback over the past 20 years, though, and so has the Martzes’ work among collectors. This was the audience McCormick had in mind when he launched MarshallStudios.net, a repository of information that includes all of the age-worn catalogs, brochures, and sales sheets he salvaged from its abandoned factory.

McCormick also continued to collect Marshall Studios pieces himself—the rarer, the better. This led him to Robert Renaker, a local antique dealer who had scored a semi-trailer full of Marshall Studios work shortly after the Veedersburg facility closed. McCormick told Renaker to call him if he ever wanted to sell.

Last summer, McCormick got the call.

Table — As the Martzes’ stoneware grew in popularity, Marshall Studios expanded its facilities to allow for the manufacture of more and larger pieces. The company’s coffee tables typically consisted of walnut bases topped with handmade ceramic tile patterns. This one retailed for $1432.20 when it appeared in the Marshall Studios Fall 1955 catalog—which can be viewed online at MarshallStudios.net.

Renaker had about 1,000 Marshall pieces stowed away in the attic of an unoccupied house in the Cottage Home neighborhood. McCormick quickly corralled two friends—art dealer Christopher West and fellow modernist Jeffrey Bond—and together, they bought the haul and split it three ways—but not before identifying approximately 60 pieces for the Paris auction organized by West.

According to West, Paris is a particularly hot market for handcrafted American modernist goods. And McCormick’s stewardship of the Marshall Studios legacy has helped build the value of the work even more.

Not that McCormick is in it just for the money. His main hope is to honor the Martzes’ work, and to remind everyone of the place they called home. “For me, it’s personal,” he says. “Being a modernist in Indiana often feels like you’re fighting against a lot of things that aren’t modern. It’s important to bring this work to light.”

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