Jane and Gordon Martz-Marshall Studios

The creators of Martz lamps and pottery met at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, where they were both students.


The creators of Martz lamps and pottery met at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, where they were both students. Gordon and Jane Martz married when they graduated in 1951, and they began their married life by moving to Jane's home, Veedersburg, Indiana. Jane Marshall Martz hailed from the founders of Marshall Studios, a lamp company founded in 1922 by Jane's grandmother. By 1951, the company had been in Veedersburg for ten years, in a building originally built as a WPA project. Marshall Studios was by then in the hands of Jane's parents, Nicholas and Grace Marshall, who wanted the young couple to contribute their talents to the enterprise.

Both Jane and Gordon had had intensive ceramics and design training at the Alfred University, where Gordon's interest in engineering also were nurtured. Jane had gone to Alfred for the sole purpose of learning design and technical ceramics training she would need to expand and carry on the family business. Meeting Gordon there was fortuitous; Jane had not only found a life partner, but also a  studio partner to help realize their ambitions. 

Veedersburg is a very small Indiana town of perhaps 1500 people, near the Wabash River, about 75 miles northwest of Indianapolis. Fortuitously for the Martzes' plans, it was in an area rich in clay soils. Brick was the primary product made in Veedersburg - a product from several local companies had been combined to build the famed "Brickyard" speedway used for the Indy 500 beginning in 1909.

By the early 1950's Gordon and Jane Martz began setting up their ceramics studio at Marshall Studios workshop to produce lamp bases in the modern style they'd become familiar with while at Alfred. Gordon began with some experimentation, first with the the clay around Veedersburg, which was ideal for bricks, but yielded uneven results for pottery and ceramics. He eventually settled on a mixture of local and commercial clay, based on a formula he'd developed at college. Their primary strategy was to create different simple shapes in slip-cast clay that could be variously decorated with techniques more commonly used by potters than commercial production. A Martz design was never decorated with the decals and transfers common to most ceramic companies of the time, and they rarely used representational designs. Gordon and Jane Martz broke their decorating techniques down to three simple methods that could be used singly, or in combination. First there was incising, or scratching a design into a freshly glazed piece before firing. Second was dipping, which involved immersing a piece in a base color first, then dipping into other glazes to varying depths for a layered effect. Lastly they used brushing, which involved lightly or loosely brushing glaze on to a piece, usually while it was being rotated on a vertical lathe. All three techniques could be learned by almost anyone, but making them look professionally applied was a skill the Martzes had to work hard to impart to others.

Fortunately, Marshall Studios had a able work force - mostly family members at first - with a strong Indiana work ethic, and the three basic techniques began to be used on lamp bases the Martzes had designed. The first was the Martz No. 41, a simple columnar shape derived from the Bauhaus principles Gordon and Jane had been exposed to at Alfred. It also established the classic Martz design elements of an American walnut neck coming from the top of the ceramic base, and a walnut finial for the shade. Beginning with this first design, the Martz tradition of making the product available in a wide variety of colors and decorations was established. Over two dozen glaze colors were eventually available, in both matte and gloss finishes. The No. 41 could be decorated with brushing, like black lightly brushed over dark blue, or incising, where the glaze color had a design scratched into it, so that the tan body showed through the glaze. The final flourish was the "Martz" signature incised on the base, next to the hole for the cord. 

Sadly nothing lasts forever, not even the excellent pieces achieved through the Martzes' talent and the strong work ethic of the Marshall family. By the late 1970's, the demand for Modernism was slackening, and the traditional "family business" model of the Marshall Studios operation was becoming uncompetitive, through no fault of the company. Ceramics were being made far more cheaply in Asia, and customers expectations had changed as well. Price had become the driving decision for purchasers rather than style or quality. By 1989, the sad decision was made to sell the business, which was closed by the new owners shortly thereafter.