History, Artistry and Legacy
“Hadley” – when Louisvillians hear that name, they think of Hadley Pottery. Generations of families have given or received a Hadley piece at major milestones – birth of a baby, graduation or a wedding.
I came to know Hadley shortly after moving to Louisville. I was getting ready to visit some friends out of town and wondered what I could bring that said “Louisville” through and through. Well, enough people said “bring a piece of Hadley Pottery” that I went and picked up a tray and coffee mugs. My friends loved the pottery and I was so proud to be giving them a piece of Louisville (my new hometown).
If you go into the Pottery on Story Avenue and take a tour as I did just a few weeks ago, the spirit of Mary Alice surrounds you. You step back in time as you walk on the creaky wooden floors, and everywhere you look there are Mary Alice’s hand-painted murals on walls and doors, some faded by age but all so clearly her work. I felt like I was on a well-worn wooden ship, encased in mystical beauty that reminded me of the sea. You also see her personally-made pottery on display, beautiful pieces filled with color and imagination.
Mary Alice Hadley was born in 1911 into a family of clay tile makers. Early in her life she exhibited an interest and talent in art and design and won numerous awards and acclaim from New York to Los Angeles.
It was not until the 1930’s that Mary Alice began blending her artistic talent with clay ware. I love the story about how she got started…so American. She simply made a set of dishes for herself to use on her house boat! Her friends made such a stir about them that she and her husband George turned her personal passion into a business, founding the Hadley Potter Company in the Butchertown neighborhood in 1939.
The business prospered over the years and Mary Alice worked at the pottery until her death in 1965. George continued to run the business until it was sold in 1979 to Louisville natives, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth W. Moore. In September 2009, new partners joined the Hadley Pottery ownership group, but operations remain largely the same as they were when the company was started.
I love telling people about Mary Alice’s amazing legacy. Her business has supported generations of local artisans (literally!), and the reputation of Hadley Pottery is known world-wide.
Mary Alice has an incredible charitable legacy as well. Her name will forever be associated with the arts and humanities in Louisville thanks to the George and Mary Alice Hadley Fund, a permanent endowment created at the Community Foundation of Louisville in 1984. The fund has awarded dozens grants for arts education to organizations like Blue Apple Players, Louisville Central Community Center, Walden Theatre and the Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft.
I’m excited that the Community Foundation will now continue Mary Alice’s legacy in a fresh, new way. The Community Foundation, in partnership with the Louisville Visual Art Association, will award the inaugural Mary Alice Hadley Prize for Visual Art in June. This $5,000 prize is creative capital that will be invested in the artist, not the final product. What better way to honor Mary Alice than to support local artists and help them reach their full artistic potential!
Mary Alice was just one person with a passion for art. That grew into a small business that has flourished into a world-wide brand. And a modest charitable gift has blossomed into an endowment that will benefit artists, arts education and humanities for generations to come.
While the bottom of my Hadley coffee mug says “The End,” I feel like we are just at the beginning.
You can learn more about Hadley Pottery at hadleypottery.com.