The History of Chalkware

By Terri Deno
The History of Chalkware

Chalkware is a type of pottery art made from gypsum plaster. The art of making chalkware pieces has been around for centuries and continues today. Artisans mold and paint fine details on each piece. Older Chalkware figurines are highly collectible and depict everything from birds to buildings.


Chalkware is believed to originate from Italy where many molds of biblical figures, including the Madonna, were made for everyday citizens to have in their homes. The technique of making chalkware reached Germany and then eventually ended up in the United States.

The prominent area of the United States where chalkware is still produced is in Pennsylvania Dutch country. They have continued the tradition that started in Europe, although American-made chalkware is not made for religious purposes.

Time Frame

Chalkware appears in two significant times in modern history. The first type of chalkware was produced in Europe and the United States between the late 18th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Chalkware reappeared during the Great Depression when many of these pieces were given away as carnival prizes.

Chalkware is still produced today using the original folk-art style.


Chalkware comes in many common variety pieces. In Europe, the most popular piece is the statue of the Madonna. In the United States, some of the most popular are animal pieces, including dogs, cats, birds and deer. Other popular shapes include flowers, fruit and buildings.

The most intricate details of the figurines are added with paint. The detail is extremely fine and makes chalkware desirable art pieces to display in the home.


Chalkware is made with a plaster material. The plaster is put into a number of individual molds to create a single piece. In the earlier examples of this craft, the figures were made from just two molds, but now chalkware artisans may use up to 12 molds to create one piece.

Once the plaster is placed into all of the molds, the pieces dry and are then cemented together to make a hollow figure. The bottom is filled with additional plaster because of the figure's light weight. The extra plaster helps to balance the piece and prevent it from falling over.


A major flaw in older Chalkware pieces is the tendency of paint and plaster to flake off of the surface of the piece. This is caused by the porous nature of the material that Chalkware is made from. Another issue caused by this material is a darkening of the surface of Chalkware over time. Collectors should not try to clean or fill in color on these pieces if they want to keep the Chalkware as a collectible investment. Many of the most valuable, collectible pieces are not in great shape.

About the Author

Terri Deno is a freelance writer living near Indianapolis. She holds a B.A. in English from Ball State University. She has a passion for research; this passion is the driving force for writing about antiques, literature, genealogy, shopping and travel.