A Brief History
Brad Keeler was born in Lincoln, California, on 4 Feb 1913, the eldest of four children born to Mary and Rufus B. Keeler. (The others were Jeanne, Byron, and Phil*).
Rufus was an acclaimed tile maker made famous by his work for the Rindge family under Malibu Potteries, and whose tile work still can be found all over southern California, particulary the Adamson House/Malibu Lagoon Museum.
Brad and his siblings grew up surrounded by ceramics, literally: the home he lived in with his family in Huntington Park, now known as South Gate, was built by his father to showcase what could be done with ceramic tile. It is now owned by a preservationist, Brian Kaiser.
Brad went to Huntington Park High School; it was around the time that he graduated that his father Rufus died at the relatively young age of 49, presumably from complications related to the inhalation of cyanide while working in his lab.
When he was 22, Brad married a South Gate girl named Catherine Gutting, my namesake. They had three children: Bradley, Patrick, and Heather-- my mom.
His first job was for Padre Potteries. Brad was a self-starter and soon he built a studio at his home in Glendale on Delay Drive and began making "Bradster" pottery, in partnership with a friend named Webster. Webster was the primary modeler in the beginning, and Brad did the mold work. When it came time to expand, Brad rented space from American Pottery in East Los Angeles. When WWII began and the imports stopped, his work sold like crazy. During this period built a new home for his family in Glendale, completely custom built. After the war, with business still booming, he decided to expand again. They sold the home and began construction on a factory in San Juan Capistrano. They rented a lavish beach home in Laguna Beach. In early 1952 he suffered a heart attack at the age of 39. Unfortunately, after his death, my grandmother's efforts to maintain the company were not successful, the business foundered, and it was forced to close its doors.
The ceramic mural he commissioned for the lobby of the building, which depicts the birth and development of ceramics, is the only thing that remains from that factory. The factory soon became home to Twin Winton ceramics. It is now a local landmark. For anyone wanting to visit the mural, here is the walking tour map:
For more detailed information, click over to the blog. I will also continue to update this page to make it more complete (and hopefully include some clearer photos).
Brad Keeler Artwares created many lines of notable works, including a series of flamingoes in various poses, many many varieties of birds, and buffet service in themes ranging from roosters to lobsters to tomatoes and radishes. His most notable contribution to the ceramics community was the formulation of a "true red" glaze, which he named "Ming Dragon Blood", and which can be seen utilized on his lobsterware buffet service series.
When seeking out his work, you can tell it's a Brad Keeler piece in several ways:
1.) It will likely have a sticker somewhere on it, black & gold & oval shaped, that says "Brad Keeler Artware", OR it will have either "BBK" or "Brad Keeler" inked or impressed into underside of the base of the piece, OR it will say "Bradster", which is the earliest incarnation of his work when he teamed up with a friend named Webster (thus the name), OR it will say "Catherine Keeler", which is the last incarnation of his work, most likely produced shortly after his death during the period in which my grandmother, his wife, Catherine Keeler, attempted to keep the factory running.
2.) In most cases there is also a number inked or impressed into the underside of the base denoting the particular model. Sometimes, that is the only marking on the piece.
3.) There are physical aspects to look for: There is always crazing (i.e. a pattern of cracking within the glaze), and with the eyes, there is (to the best of my knowledge) always a skinny white triangular shape, sort of like a very very thin wedge of pie, representing a reflection in the eye. All of the pieces that I own are like this, and according to my mom, they all are.
About Catherine Porter, the owner of this site
My name is Catherine Porter, aka Cati Porter, and I am one of Brad Keeler's granddaughters. His daughter, Heather, is my mother.
I grew up surrounded by my grandfather's work, but without any context: To me as a child, they were simply things to be dusted on Saturday mornings. In fact, we were so accustomed to having his work around that when Grandma Catherine (his wife) passed away when I was little, my mom gave to me a number of his bird figurines as well as some "moonshine men" that I now believe are some of his earliest pieces; these I kept in my room, occasionally knocking them off the shelf and having to make small repairs with whatver glue I had around.
Then as a young adult I began to take more of an interest in him and his work out of a desire to learn about our family history. Over the years I have grown my collection, picking up pieces from eBay, antique stores on both the east and west coasts, as well as gifts from family who know I collect; also, because my mom lives with us, and because I have the larger kitchen and a large glass cabinet to display them in, my mom has donated hers to me. I now own a dozen or so pieces from the lobsterware collection, several from the rooster collection, a couple of servers with tomatos and radishes, a full demitasse set (including creamer and sugar bowl) shaped liked tulips, a couple of flamingoes, a mallard duck, as well as a rabbit, a puppy, and a couple of kittens from his Pryde & Joy collection, in addition to the the birds and moonshine men that I inherited as a child.
The more I learn about him and his place within the California Pottery movement of the early 20th century, the more I understand I need to do what I can to preserve his legacy and to share whatever knowledge and resources I have gathered. There are many within the ceramics community at large who value his work, and many others who are casual collectors interested in as much in the history of their piece as its worth.
How I do know this? I am a writer by trade, specifically a poet (you can find a poem about him, "Crazed Collection", in my book, Seven Floors Up), and I have maintained a private blog for many years, primarily related to my own creative work and homelife. I have only had occasion to post about my grandfather's work on just a couple of occasions, and yet, for the hundreds of other non-Brad Keeler-related posts, the ones that receive the most views are the ones about him, and nearly every day people find my blog by searching for him.
In fielding the more than the occasional question about the history of his work, or about the value of his work, I believe it is time to gather the information all in one place, where collectors, historians, former employees, and family members alike can come together to share information.
So, thank you for stopping by.
This site is a work in progress but rest assured that it will be growing steadily and that you may rely on it for many years to come.