Kentucky Derby Dishes – Mary Alice Hadley

Platter - Mary Alice Hadley

For hundreds of collectors, the Kentucky Derby means entertaining with treasured pieces of M.A. Hadley pottery.

The Hadley museum and pottery is a popular place especially during Derby week, as collectors arrive to fill out their patterns for Derby celebrations with friends and family. At one point, museum office manager Lynnette Faulkenberg said, limousines would form lines around the building while eager shoppers collected their pottery for Derby parties.

The durable, hand-painted plates, mugs, pitchers and julep cups are treasured by Louisvillians who’ve relocated and hold Derby Day celebrations all over the world. Collectors appreciate the craft and the simple, cheerful patterns offered by M.A. Hadley.

“It’s very collectible,” said Gene Hewitt who added that the pottery can be found in shops around the country.

Mary Alice Hadley was a painter in Louisville in the 1930’s but her true calling as an artist and designer for stoneware began in the late 30’s. According to Hadley Museum and Pottery general manager, Gene Hewitt, the business began when Mary Alice designed and fired a set of dinnerware for a party on the family’s boat. Her guests were charmed by the folk designs and glazes and asked for sets of their own.

“She started selling to friends in 1940 and the family bought her this building in 1944,” Hewitt said. Today the Hadley Museum continues to produce Hadley pottery and hires artists and art students to hand paint Mary Alice Hadley’s original designs.

If you have lost or broken a piece, it can be replaced. According to Faulkenberg, most of the older designs can be duplicated. The only M.A. Hadley pottery that the museum cannot reproduce is an award-winning brown fleck, because the clay to make it is no longer available.

A standard M.A. Hadley dinner plate sells for $25.50 but there are seconds to be had at the company’s headquarters. Older designs and those actually painted by Mary Alice Hadley herself are more valuable. In general, a collector can determine if a pattern is older by the clothing worn by the characters in the design. As far as determining whether or not Mrs. Hadley actually painted your piece, Hewitt says some of the retired artists can still tell her signature.

“We can usually determine if she signed it or not, but all of our artists still sign each piece with her initials and name,” Hewitt said. He added that while he did not know how much some of the older pieces were being sold for, that the value was increasing each year.

The Hadley “horse” pattern is particularly popular with collectors this time of year as the historic run for the roses brings Louisville, Kentucky and it’s local artisans into the public eye.

• You can find a list of specialty shops where you can purchase Mary Alice Hadley pottery here .

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