California Sanatorium Home of Arequipa Pottery

   San Francisco physician Philip King Brown (1869-1940) opened the Arequipa Sanatorium, a tuberculosis sanatorium outside the Marin County town of Fairfax, California in September of 1911. Brown aimed to serve lower and middle-class women patients whom, the doctor found in his practice following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, contracted TB much more frequently than men. 

He employed occupational therapy techniques to distract patients from the symptoms of their disease. According to archivists Mary Morganti and Katherine Bryant of the University of California Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, the sanatorium was conceived as a ‘school’ where patients would learn how to cure themselves through fresh air and bed rest, the sanatorium featured large wards that were screened from floor to ceiling, even in winter. Whenever possible, locally grown food was served, and members of many Bay Area families donated money and goods. Arequipa eventually had three wards, a small library, living room, dining room, bathrooms, and examining rooms. Patients read, slept, wrote and published in-house magazines, and enjoyed the various entertainers who came to visit the sanatorium. 

During the 1900s, Brown worked with nurse Elizabeth Ashe to assist tubercular patients at the clinic and administer Arequipa’s day-to-day affairs. 
Dr. Brown believed that if the patients had something to occupy themselves, they would spend less time worrying about their disease and would heal more quickly. He began to experiment with various types of occupational therapy, and in 1911, decided to open a pottery.  Brown worked with a succession of English pottery experts, including Frederick Hurten Rhead (1880–1942), Albert Solon (1887-1949)and Fred H. Wilde (1856-1943), to develop and manage a ceramics studio at Arequipa that gained acclaim during its short period of operation from November of 1911 until 1923. 


Dr. Rhead was interested in using local resources in the production of pottery.  He found red clay on the pottery grounds and encouraged pottery participants to draw inspiration from the surrounding landscape of wildflowers, madrone, live oak and manzanita. Rhead had high expectations for the pottery. He hoped to build an industry, unfortunately that conflicted with Arequipa’s central purpose. Hospital administrators maintained that the primary mission of the hospital was the treatment of patients.  When Rhead tried to expand production with professional assistants, he was asked to resign in 1913. Arequipa’s strongest work was produced during his tenure.

Upon Rhead’s departure, Albert Solon took over the running of the pottery. Solon didn’t stay long at Arequipa either. He went on to teach for a short time in the California state university system and from there became a manufacturer of decorative wall and floor tile.    


Finally, the third director of the pottery was Fred H. Wilde. He came to the United States from England in 1885 and worked for art tile companies in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and California. Not surprisingly, tiles became a major focus of production at Arequipa. Wilde also introduced a line of dazzling glazes into the pottery. 


Arequipa Pottery became a money-making success for a short time for the sanatorium.  Arequipa took a booth at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915 in the Palace of Education and Social Economy. There was a model of the sanatorium and pottery, and women who had worked there demonstrated processes. Orders and inquiries came from all over the United States following this exposure.” 

The pottery was described as a good example of bungalow pottery - sturdy, honest ware with straightforward decoration.  The glazes were well done, the decorations simple and an interesting use local motifs was employed. As is to be expected when a variety of potters are at work, the quality range varies from mediocre to extremely fine.


Arequipa pottery was made fine local clays and the decorations were of the modeled or sgraffito types. Glazes were a soft matte. The colors were especially fine, rich in shades, with one color brushed over another in swirls and highlights. Another interesting note was the introduction during this time of slip trailing, which is careful carving of leaves, vines and other decorative patterns into the damp clay.


Boys from a nearby San Francisco orphanage were brought to the sanatorium to do the “heavy-lifting” of making the pottery.  The two dozen female patients did the decorating and other less strenuous tasks. In terms of patient response, the pottery was very successful. Aside from the success that briefly came in 1915 at the Pan Pacific Exposition, monetarily it did little to help the institution itself.


The word Arequipa means “place of peace.” This name, plus California, is impressed on most pieces. One alternative marking is AP. A jug under a tree is often impressed as well.

The momentum that Brown and Ashe had begun at Arequipa during the early-to-mid 1910s, however, was disrupted by the United States’ entry into World War I.  Ashe and Brown left for other charitable pursuits, and the absence of their leadership sapped the clinic of much of its vitality. The facility continued to treat about 120 patients per year during the 1920s, but this rate of treatment would soon become financially burdensome. 


Following World War II, the development of effective antibiotics enabled tuberculosis patients to be treated easily on an out-patient basis, so the need for sanatoriums decreased drastically.  Arequipa saw its last patient resident in 1957, and closed that year. The same year, another charity, the Marin County Society for Crippled Children and Adults, opened at the aging sanatorium. Due to the cost of upkeep, this effort failed rapidly, and the property lay vacant into the 1960s.


Arequipa’s land was leased during the following decade to the Bay Area Girl Scouts organization, who created a camp on the property. The sanatorium building was damaged during heavy storms in 1982 and 1983 and razed in 1984.

Interior view of the women working in the Arequipa Pottery Studio, 1915.

Frederick H Rhead Arequipa Pottery vase decorated with carved jonquil leaves. Circa 1911-1913.

Arequipa tall vase squeezebag-decorated with band of heart-shaped leaves on mauve background. Circa 1911-13.

Carved, Painted & Matte Glazed Pottery. Designed & Made by 
Frederick Hurten Rhead, Arequipa Sanatorium, Fairfax, California. Circa 1911-1913.

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