Finding these beautiful turned wood bowls with handpainted saucy strutting roosters in pristine collection at the back of a client's dining room hutch elicited squeals of glee. The really fine quality of the hardwood and the workmanship sent us flying for the internet to read more about Munising Wooden Ware, the company that made them.
Turn of the century kitchens had their choice of glass, pottery, metal or wooden bowls. Durable and forgiving Tupperware was decades away. Of the available materials, wooden bowls and kitchen products were in high demand. They were stunningly resilient and perfect for things like kneading and rising dough and chopping things that needed chopping. They didn't dull your blades like metal bowls. They were warmer for rising than pottery and glass bowls. And they didn't break if they slipped out of your hands.
It only makes sense that if you are going to make wooden bowls from American hardwood to meet that demand, locating yourself near trees is a solid strategy. That's why the Munising Wooden Ware company settled itself in Munising, Michigan in 1911. Eventually expanding to two factories, at the height of their popularity the company had 250 employees and enjoyed a national reputation driven by inclusion in the Sears Roebuck catalog.
In 1946, Tupperware was founded.* Less than ten years later, Earl Tupper sold his company for $16 million. That's a lot of money now. It was a LOT OF MONEY in 1958. That tells you what was happening in the world of kitchenware. Wood may have been easy to deal with, but plastic in all forms was sexy new technology that was even easier to maintain. Plastic was also easier to make, cheaper to buy and on trend, diminishing the consumer demand for hand turned bowls. Combine that with inexpensive teak and monkey pod imports and the writing was on the wall for what had been great American success story. Munising Wooden Ware closed one factory in 1955 and the other in 1959.
Painted bowls like the pristine rooster set in our vintage shop were decorated in the art room shown above from the late 1940s until the factories closed. Ivy and florals were popular, but roosters ruled, painted in lots of different color ways.
These bowls were made to be used and to last. Certainly metal utensils will mar the surface, always a dilemma, but we say get the lettuce and let's make salad. These beautiful, American wood, American made, American designed, American styled bowls will serve salads for generations to come and get more beautiful with every bit of patina and age.
To find out more about Munising Wooden Ware, visit these sites: Munising Wood Ware, an antique and gift store specializing in Munising that's in Munising, and Joel Graber's lovely site, originally started by Joel and his father Ken, that is packet with reference images including the photo of the art shop above.
*For you Massachusetts locals, it was news to us that Tupperware was invented in nearby South Grafton. How did we not know that?