Manufacturer: Syracuse China
Name of Pattern: Mimbreño
Date of examples: circa 1936 – 1970
Notes: Mimbreño is a china pattern designed by Mary Colter (photo at left) of the Fred Harvey Company in collaboration R. Guy Cowan of Syracuse China for use on the Santa Fe Railroad's Super Chief dining car. According to Wikipedia: "The pattern was produced between 1936 and 1970 and carried an inscription on the bottom which read 'Made expressly for Santa Fe Dining Car Service.' These distinctive pieces made their debut on the dining car Cochiti in 1937. Used on the Super Chief and other named trains until the end of Santa Fe passenger service in 1971, some original Mimbreño dinnerware can still be found today in service on BNSF Railway business cars.
"Mary Jane Elizabeth Colter (1869-1958), an architect and designer for the Fred Harvey Company, had become an Indian art expert, and based her designs on 1100 CE [Common Era] Mimbres patterns excavated by her friends Harriet and Cornelius Cosgrove at the Swarts Ruin in New Mexico from 1924 to 1927."
According to Syracuse China by Cleota Reed and Stan Skoczen, "these designs were on the black-and-white painted pottery of the Mimbres Indians, an agricultural people who had lived in Arizona and New Mexico during the Pueblo III period (1100-1200 A.D.). The distinctive underglaze pattern featured stylized animals and borders in brick red and blackish brown on Syracuse's Round Edge and other shapes in the ivory body. Coulter tried to keep the decorations close to the primitive style of the Native Americans.
"The Mimbreño Indian decoration stands as one of the most distinctive patterns made by Syracuse for railroad service."
Again, according to Wikipedia: "The luxury Super Chief and business class dining services were discontinued after the train was turned over to Amtrak in May 1971 (today the Southwest Chief covers the route). Later that year Mimbreño plates and pieces became available to ordinary individuals for the first time, disposed of in two large public offerings. Mimbreño railroad china remains avidly and competitively collected, with single plates selling for many hundreds of dollars (a line of authorized reproductions has been sold since 1989)."
As a side note, here's a video of little-seen footage of Mary Colter herself along with some of her architectural accomplishments: Grand Canyon Moments.
The authorized reproductions referred to were originally sold by Nostalgia Station – now Pipestone – in Freeland, Maryland (grouping shown above), and were manufactured by various china companies including Buffalo China, Sterling China, and Homer Laughlin. Mimbreño reproductions are also currently being manufactured by H.F. Coors in Tucson, Arizona. An additional color combination has been added: black on white.
Ivory body plate with two black-brown pin lines on the outer rim, the outer one being about twice as thick as the inner one. The rest of the rim is covered in a gauzy brick red design of intersecting lines. At the inner edge of the rim, near the top of the verge is a narrow band of connecting brick-red triangles. In the well of the plate is a large circular drawing with four focal points – at the 12, 3,6, and 9 o'clock positions – which consist of five straight narrow parallel pinstripes running toward the center of the well, each about an inch and a half long. On many of the smaller plates and other shapes this circular well design is replaced by Mimbreño / Mimbreno Indian animal drawings of deer, birds, goats, rabbits, etc.
Wikipedia – Information on the Super Chief china
Wikipedia – Information on Mary Colter
Syracuse China by Cleota Reed and Stan Skoczen – Information on Mimbreño China
Syracuse China Seventy-five Years of American Craftsmanship – photo of Super Chief dining car
For more info:
Fred Harvey – 4300 Series, by Syracuse China
Fred Harvey – Denmark, by Syracuse China
Fred Harvey – El Tovar, by Syracuse China
Fred Harvey – Encanto, by Syracuse China
Fred Harvey – Harvey Paisley, by Syracuse China
Fred Harvey – Unknown, by Buffalo China
Fred Harvey – Webster, by Syracuse China
Photo of antique store china – Edward Babcock
Photos of Pipestone Reproductions – Michael Charles Pavlovich
Author: Ed Phillips