They say potters make good cooks. Some do. More to the point, for ages having things to put things in was crucial to subsistence survival. (Not that anything’s changed, we just don’t think about it as such). Obviously diet dictates the containers we need for processing, storing and eating food. Just as obviously potters across the globe have made these containers for centuries – thus the cooking assumption.
Potters used to congregate where clay deposits and transportation routes coincided to best accomplish their work. Early on in the US such communities were called “jugtowns.” Imagine a US map with a shot gun blast through it. That would be a jugtown map. They were scattered everywhere. Some big, many small. They began in places like Yorktown VA to Charleston MA and beyond.
Some jugtowns got bigger and more organized as time went by and pottery technology evolved. Particularly in pottery neighborhoods of Bennington VT, Utica and Albany, NY, Portland, ME, Trenton, NJ, and elsewhere along the eastern seaboard.
But all that was prologue. The big break out followed the westward migration across Indian lands. Gigantic jugtowns – factory towns really – sprouted up, pushed west by the railroads. East Liverpool, OH, Monmouth, IL, Redwing, MN. After Redwing, new jugtowns were unnecessary. By then railroads could deliver crockery just about anywhere.
But something else was at play. Advances in glass, canning and refrigeration radically changed food preparation, storage and even menus. The need for things to put things in was forever altered. Big proved fatal. Pottery faded to irrelevance.
The food industry certainly made pottery important. But food almost killed pottery as well. Interest in hand made pottery was just barely kept alive through China painting, the Arts and Crafts movement, and (later) even the GI Bill. But then Ray Kroc and his ilk whacked us with “fast food.” There’s little need for a plate or even a paper bag when eating a sandwich, burger or wrap.
Of course many modern potters can eloquently defend their existence. Still, without a clear idea of where we’re coming from how do we know where we’re going to?
American Stoneware. William Ketchum. Holt & Co./New York. 1991.
American Stonewares. Georgeanna Greer. Schiffer Publishing Ltd./Exton, PA. 1981.
Domestic Pottery of the Northeastern United States, 1625-1850. Sarah Peabody Turnbaugh, Ed. Academic Press/New York. 1985.
The Early Potters and Potteries of Maine. M. Lelyn Branin. Wesleyan University Press/Middletown Ct. 1978.
Early Potters and Potteries of New York State. William Ketchum. Funk & Wagnalls/New York. 1970.
Raised in Clay, The Southern Pottery Tradition. Nancy Sweezy. Smithsonian Institution Press/Washington DC. 1984.
Clay in the Hands of the Potter. Rochester Museum and Science Center. An exhibition of pottery manufacture in the Rochester and Genesee Valley Region c. 1793-1900. 1974.
The Jug and Related Stoneware of Bennington. Cornelius Osgood. Charles Tuttle Co./Rutland, VT. 1971.
The Pottery of Whately, Massachusetts. Leslie Keno. Historic Deerfield Summer Fellowship Program/Deerfield, MA. 1978.
Early New England Potters and Their Wares. Lura Woodside Watkins. Harvard Univ Press/Cambridge MA. 1968.
Turners and Burners. Terry Zug. University of North Carolina Prerss/Chapel Hill, NC. 1986.