A History of Frankoma Pottery

Vintage Frankoma
Vintage Frankoma pottery stand. Flickr/Housing Works Thrift Shops

In 1933 John Frank, teaching art and pottery at the University of Oklahoma, was inspired to use clay deposits from Oklahoma. With only a small kiln, a butter churn for mixing clay and jars for glazes, a pottery studio was started in Norman, Oklahoma. It was first called Frank Potteries for three years before it changed in 1936 to the name it has to this day, Frankoma Pottery. 

A Move from Ada to Sapulpa

The new name of the company still used the Frank name, but combined it with the last three letters from Oklahoma. It was in 1938 that the company moved to Sapulpa, Oklahoma, west of Tulsa and about 110 miles from the city of Norman. Several months after the move, a fire destroyed the factory, the first of two fires to ravage the company.

Clay from Ada, Oklahoma was used until 1954, at which time the Franks switched to Sapulpa clay. Ada clay fired to a light beige color, whereas the Sapulpa clay fires to a reddish, terra cotta color.

The Family Behind the Business

Artist daughter Joniece Frank became president of the company when John Frank passed away in 1973 at the age of 69.

The factory was destroyed once again in 1983 at the peak of success. And once again the factory was rebuilt, but never quite recovered the same success. After a bankruptcy, the family business was sold in 1991 to an out-of-state investor, H. Bernstein.

The company closed its doors on December 31, 2004. There were hopes that the plant would reopen in a few months with a new buyer.

New Buyers 

Pottery lovers didn't have to wait long. On July 1, 2005, the good news arrived that that Det and Crystal Merryman, of the Merrymac Collection, purchased the Frankoma Pottery Company.

The Frankoma plant closed again for six weeks during the summer of 2008 for the sale transition of new owners once again, reopening on August 18, 2008. The new owner, Joe Ragosta, told the Tulsa World "I've always been a collector of antiques, and I recognize a great name when I see one." Ragosta planned to bring back all the employees and move forward with the Frankoma brand collectibles.

Company Hiccups

Finance problems plagued the once popular Frankoma Pottery yet again and the company's doors were closed in the spring of 2010. Although it was thought and hoped that problems could be resolved, the company remained shuttered until August 2012, when the factory building was sold to a non-pottery manufacturer. At that time the original Frankoma molds and trademark name were sold to a limited liability company called FPC LLC.

As of December 2012, Frankoma Pottery reopened for business. Pottery continues to be made but in smaller quantities with artware being the primary focus. Sales are limited to their website as well as selected antique malls.

An Acquired Taste

The signature line of Frankoma Pottery dinnerware, Wagon Wheel, was introduced in 1942. According to the Frankoma Family Collector's Association, "Frankoma became the pioneer in colored tableware, with designs in bold bas-relief, never before presented to the public". Other very popular items include the political mugs and the Christmas plates.

The look of Frankoma is an acquired taste, the southwestern feel and unusual colored glazes do not appeal to everyone. And although Frankoma Pottery has been around for many years, until recently it has not gained much respect with pottery enthusiasts. That trend has been changing and although average prices might never reach the values of some of its northern cousins -- the Ohio potteries, prices have been increasing. The combination of art pottery pieces, along with the southwestern appeal of the dinnerware, political mugs, souvenirs and even religious pieces has enough diversity to appeal to many pottery lovers.