Swashbuckling tales replete with sword play and intrigue are sure-fire crowd pleasers. But most pottery histories avoid that sort of thing. Well…
First, the sword play. Turn-of-the-19th-century Moravian potters of Salem NC employed colorful slipware patterns and playful forms quite in contrast to their strict religious estheticism. Accounts of Salem market days tell of unruly mobs lunging for anything they could grab from the Moravians’ stalls. At times the local militia had to come out – swords drawn – to keep the peace. Moravian pottery was that good.
It all began (more or less) back in 1530. Catholic zealots chased Protestant artisans out of Faenza Italy. These artisans ended up in Moravia, southern Germany. By century’s end they had either split into several groups or their pottery skills spread to other radical communist anabaptist protestant sects also sheltering in Moravia. These migrant artisan groups, collectively known as “Habaners,” believed in strict religious communal living and shared property ownership.
But the birth of European Capitalism was a messy thing. The powers that be reacted savagely to religious deviants and peasant protests. Trouble hounded the Habaners causing them to fan out across Franconia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and elsewhere. Some such groups abandoned Europe altogether in favor of North Carolina (the “Moravians”) and elsewhere in America.
Haban pottery was originally limited to a narrow range of shapes, shunning superfluous and “unseemly” decoration. But income from pottery sales outside the community proved too lucrative. The bare Haban aesthetic adapted to the temperament of local cultures as the Habaners were buffeted about. This interplay resulted in colorful slipware for the masses and majolica for the wealthy. Haban majolica eventually became synonymous with Central European folk pottery between the 17th – 19th centuries.
The austere American Moravians similarly adapted to local raw materials and markets. Thus the creative slipware defended by militia swords.
Depth of experience and motivation can sometimes be hard to discern in pottery as well as in people. That’s something to keep in mind when looking at flowery painted pottery from long ago.
Ceramics in America. Robert Hunter, Ed. University Press of New England/Lebanon, NH. 2009.
Ceramics in America. Robert Hunter, Ed. University Press of New England/Lebanon, NH. 2010.
The Concise Encyclopedia of Continental Pottery and Porcelain. Reginald Haggar. Hawthorn Books/New York. 1960.