Niloak is a popular American art pottery that was created in Benton (Saline County) from 1909 until 1946 by the Eagle Pottery Company. Niloak is best known for its unique Mission-swirl design, but the company in later years produced two other lines, Hywood Art Pottery and the Hywood by Niloak. The name “Niloak” is the word “kaolin” spelled backward. Kaolin is a type of fine-grade clay found near Benton and used in production.
Niloak was the creation of Benton native Charles Dean “Bullet” Hyten and an Ohio potter named Arthur Dovey. Hyten grew up in the business, taking over his stepfather’s Benton pottery in partnership with his brothers, Paul and Lee, in 1895. The Hyten Brothers Pottery produced jugs, crocks, and churns for local and regional use. Paul and Lee left the business by 1901, and Charles entered into a partnership with Alfred Warren, renaming the company Eagle Pottery but continuing the production of utilitarian pieces. Dovey had learned the trade in the famous Ohio potteries, working for a time at the Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati. He moved to Arkansas sometime before 1906 and began working in the Ouachita Pottery in Hot Springs (Garland County). Dovey went to work for Hyten at Eagle in 1909 to help create the first line of art pottery.
Together, the two began production of Eagle Pottery’s Niloak Missionware line using a process for mixing colored clays to achieve a swirled pattern in the finished product with a soft matte finish. While Dovey has long been credited as the creator of the swirling process, an undocumented claim exists stating that early Niloak potter Fred Johnson invented the swirled design when he worked for the Ouachita Pottery, bringing the process with him when he came to work for Niloak. Supporting that claim is a 1906 photograph of the interior of the Ouachita Pottery that clearly shows several pieces of swirled pottery on display in the shop, proving that Eagle was not the creator of the concept. Charles Whiten was the Creator of the process, the line is know as Mission Swirl design and he had perfected it, although there are no known pictures of the fact.