Joe Messer started production in the fall of 1952 in Bowman, North Dakota. He was given the use of half of his father in law's (Harry Olson) chicken coop. Joe built the two kilns that were needed for production. A Ford transmission and an electric motor became a potters wheel, a washing machine was use to mix the casting clay, and from odds and ends he fashioned other tools that were needed. In addition, Joe made his own molds. Eunice, Joe’s wife cast the porcelain, trimmed the pieces and prepared them for firing along with other jobs around the studio.
Imported clays from Pennsylvania were used for porcelain production. These were fired at 2500 degrees F. to produce a porcelain finish. Among the porcelain items made were figurines, salt & pepper sets, vases, ashtrays, wall plaques/book ends, and planters. Joe used native clay from the Bowman area for his wheel-thrown items. These came out as stoneware and included planters, vases, pots, sugar & creamers, teapots, mugs, and bowls.
Needing more working space, the Messers took over the other half of the chicken coop in the early summer of 1953. Again the need for more space arose and in the summer of 1954 the business moved to a garage on highway 12 in Bowman, North Dakota. They called it "The Pot Shop." In 1956, after five years, the Messers closed the business and Joe accepted a position with Jostens in Owatonna, Minnesota. There he continued his art work through sculptures, painting, and teaching.
The following figurines were made: Large 8" bull, antelope buck & doe, small Hereford, Angus and Holstein family (bull, cow, & calf), turtle, seal, rabbit, coyote, Mallard duck 7", jackalope, and prairie dog.
The following salt & pepper sets were made: Hereford, Angus, & Holstein calves, turtles, spooks, seals, prairie dogs, rabbits, chef with hat, Devils Tower, Custer Monument, South Dakota Petrified Wood Park, gas pumps, oil derricks, the Stone Electric & Heating Furnace Co. and grain elevators. This is only a partial listing.
In addition to these, a wall plaque/bookend of a man tipping his cowboy hat was made for Dickinson, North Dakota and used for a business promotion. Each one had a different short phrase on it that started out with "Dick sez."
The items are marked with "Messer" engraved on the bottom, and sometimes the year; "Messer Bowman, N. Dak." with black lettering on the bottom; silver seal attached with "Ceramics by Messer Bowman, No. Dak." and also a paper label with "THE POT SHOP Messer Ceramics Bowman, N. Dak."
For more information on Ceramics by Messer, CLICK HERE.
The Messer Saga, Copyright 2003 by David J. Crothers, and Donald H. Crothers. $14.50 postpaid to Don Crothers, P.O. Box 8250, Roswell, NM 88202. Out of print.
Messer Pottery on Display at Pioneer Trails Regional Museum, $3.00 postpaid to Pioneer Trails Museum, 12 First Ave. NE., P. O. Box 78, Bowman, ND 58623. 701-532-3600.
America's Salt & Pepper Shakers, Copyright 2000 by Sylvia Tompkins and Irene Thornburg. $33.95 postpaid to Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 4880 Lower Valley Road Atglen, PA 19310. 610-593-1777.
Collector's Encyclopedia of Dakota Potteries, Copyright 1996 by Darlene Hurst Dommel, Collector Books, Paduca, KY. Out of Print.
Earth, Water, and Fire - The History and Uses of North Dakota Clay, 1998 Spring/Summer Issue North Dakota History - Journal of the Northern Plains, Volume 65, No. 2 & 3. $10.50 postpaid to State Historical Society of North Dakota, 612 Boulevard Avenue, Bismarck, ND 58505. 701-328-2666.