Archive for the ‘Slipware’ Category

Shot Across the Bow

November 10, 2013

featuring Peter Roe, The Shipibo, Pottery History, and The Here and Now.

Peter Roe:
Peter Roe originally thought he’d be a potter.  He ended up an Anthropologist.  His research focused on the Shipibo Indians of the Upper Amazonian Ucayaki River.  Painted designs permeated Shipibo lives.  They were masters of geometric symmetry.  They could take any surface and, starting at one end, work across with a perfectly symmetrical design freehand with no pre-planning.

Hotel Tariri, in the Shipibo village where Peter worked, was attempting to cash in on the area’s nascent tourist trade.  The hotel was painted in Shipibo-inspired designs to attract guests.

The Shipibo:
Now we must delve into Shipibo cosmology (much abridged for everybody’s sake).  Life is a battle between chaos and order.  ‘Good vs. evil,’ if you wish.  There will always be both.  It’s up to us to keep chaos in check as best we can.  The vivid Shipibo geometric patterns expressed this struggle.  Bold, erratic, asymmetrical lines bounced all over the place.  Neat and tidy symmetrical lines surrounded and corralled the chaos.  A sort of design therapy.

The German guy who owned Hotel Tariri had no idea what Shipibo patterns meant.  He just laid on a bunch of wild lines.  Chaos incarnate.  The Shipibo felt his paint job caused needless psychic damage to the universe.

Pottery History:
Early 19th century Moravian pottery from Salem and Bethabara in North Carolina featured an amazing visual vocabulary.  Moravian slipware decoration included some of the most compelling floral compositions made in North America at the time.  These floral designs illustrated Moravian religious views.  Certain flowers represented specific saints, religious tenets, etc.

The Here and Now:
Modern redware potters adore the Moravian visual vocabulary.  We draw heavily from it in our work.  It’s a fair bet to assume we rarely, if ever, take into consideration specific saints’ days when frantically decorating before deadlines.

To be fair, the Moravians’ neighbors bought oodles of their pottery precisely because of the colorful designs – not the Moravian religious system.  So modern redware potters probably aren’t major players in today’s psychic damage arena.

But how deep does “inspiration” go – for redware potters or for anyone inspired by imagery beyond their own life experience?  Reflecting on the importance of understanding ones sources is always a healthy exercise.

A shot across the bow, in any case.

Readings:
Symmetry Comes of Age, The Role of Pattern in Society.  Dorothy Washburn and Donald Crowe, eds.  University of Washington press/Singapore.  2004.

Ceramics in America.  Robert Hunter, ed.  University of New Hampshire Press/Hanover New Hampshire.  2009.

 

A Jersey Outset

April 7, 2013

Why did men used to need a dowry bribe to marry?  Fortunately, these enlightened days offer men an alternative prenuptial pageant.  And women get bridal showers, so goods are still exchanged.

In the early 19th century a working class bride might instead expect to receive an “outset,” a collection of useful items given by her parents on occasion of her marriage.  People needed many things to start up a household.  Silverware.  Bedding.  Furniture.  And pottery.  Especially inexpensive redware slip trailed with moralistic adages.

Chamber pots were a common gift.  Various kinds of dishes were another.  These were occasions when the parent (or the potter) could have some fun.  “When this you see remember me…”  Or offer words of advice.  “Give drink to the thirsty.”  Or instruct in proper living.  “Visit the sick.”  Sgraffito potters also got in on the act with whole sentences scrawled around plate rims.  “Eating is for existence and life, drinking is also good besides.”  Words to live by.

But one wonders at some sayings trailed onto outset gift plates.  Take, for example, the bacon plate shown below.  “Hard times in Jersey.”  The two most likely makers of this plate were either Henry Van Saun who ran a “Pottery Bake Shoppe” near New Milford, NJ from 1811 to 1829, or George Wolfkiel who bought the old Van Saun shop in 1847 and ran it until 1867.  Wolfkiel is believed to have made a set of dishes for the wedding of a certain Mrs. Zabriskie in nearby Ramsey.  It’s possible that this plate was part of her outset.

You can see this bacon plate today at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford CT.  But what was the message to young Mrs. Zabriskie on the occasion?  Good luck?  Oh well?  Told you so?

Hard times in Jersey

Readings:
The Reshaping of Everyday Life.  John Worrel.  Harper Perennial/New York.  1989.

Kitchen Ceramics.  Selsin, Rozensztroch, and Cliff.  Abbeville Press/New York.  1997.

20 Million Flower Pots

March 24, 2013

Everybody loves an underdog, as the saying goes.  But whenever a rural occupation confronts an industrial revolution, doom results. 

In this regard, early American redware potters were singularly marked.  They might marry the tavern keeper’s daughter (lots of business was transacted in taverns) or open a dry goods store (another reliable outlet) to avoid their fate.  Some switched to stoneware.  Some quit altogether.

Others found salvation in flowerpots

Abraham Hews of Weston MA wasn’t thinking this when he opened a redware shop in 1765.  He relied on ‘word-of-mouth’ sales within walking distance of Weston instead of the huge nearby Boston market.  Still, probate records at his death put him solidly in the middle income bracket.  In fact his was to be one of the few redware potteries to remain active, from father to son, until 1871. 

Abraham Hews II had big plans for the shop.  He actually listed himself in tax roles as “potter” (Abraham I only ever called himself “yeoman”).  Things went well, even though Abraham II phased out extraneous slip decoration after 1800 like most New England redware potters would.

But the writing was on the wall by the 1860’s.  The Hews family began the switch to flowerpots, both molded and hand made, to stay alive.  They relocated next to clay pits shared by North Cambridge MA brick makers in 1871. 

The Panic of 1893 erased  North Cambridge’s brick industry, leaving all that clay to A.C. Hews & Co.  So perhaps it’s no surprise that at the dawn of the 20th century Hews could boast an output of over 20 million flowerpots. More than anyone.  Anywhere.  Ever. 

Plastics finally slew the Hews clay flowerpot business in the 1960’s.  One family’s 200 year involvement in clay ended.  It might date me, but it’s a personal thrill to think that one small slice of redware pottery history saw it’s closing chapter in my own lifetime. 

It’s nice to feel connected.

Readings:
Domestic Pottery of the Northeastern United States, 1625-1850.  Sarah Peabody Turnbaugh, Ed.  Academic Press/New York.  1985.

Early New England Potters and Their Wares.  Lura Woodside Watkins.  Harvard Univ Press/Cambridge MA.  1968.

Domestic Pottery of the Northeastern United States, 1625-1850.  Sarah Peabody Turnbaugh, Ed.  Academic Press/New York.  1985.

The Reshaping of Everyday Life: 1790-1840.  Jack Larkin.  Harper Perennial/New York.  1989.

 

Communist Vagabond Troublemakers

November 12, 2012

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.

Readings:
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.

Pony Up The Cash

August 5, 2012

Amazingly, there are still people who think 18th – 19th century pottery is boring. But under that pottery’s constrained veneer is a rich quirky vein. One powered mostly by anonymous potters. While historians can discern individuals’ handiwork, local contemporaries most likely knew exactly who they were.

Norwalk CT excelled at this genre (and this conundrum). Norwalk was one of New England’s busiest pottery towns. It straddled the traditions of (relatively restrained) New England and (relatively ornate) mid Atlantic pottery.

Asa Hoyt was potting in Norwalk by 1790. Asa did simple slip-trailed sunburst patterns until he hired New Jersey potters with elaborate trailing backgrounds. Hoyt was succeeded by Absalom Day and his wife Betsy Smith. Absalom threw, Betsy fired. The Smith family inherited the pottery and kept it going long into the 19th century, defining the quintessential “Norwalk” style. They even won a diploma at the American Institute’s 17th annual fair in 1844 for “superior earthen spitoons.”

Norwalk’s slip trailed, slab molded pie plates were unique. They were shallower than Pennsylvania’s thrown pie plates, and had no corollary in the rest of New England. Most were made before 1850. One hand seems responsible for the best work. This Smith Pottery employee used the Spencerian script learned by every kid until the “i gadget” made hand writing pointless. As it happens, we actually know the guy’s name. Henry Chichester was a master calligrapher. The book “Norwalk Potteries” even has a group photo from 1863 with him in it.

Saying trailed by Chichester and others ran the gamut from generic to off the wall. The majority were pretty straight forward. “Apple Pie.” “Clams and Oysters.” (New Englanders ate a lot of clams and oysters). It’s not hard to guess the motivation for some. “Pony up the cash.” “Cheap Dish.” “Money Wanted.” Or just “Money.” Some were commemorative, like “Mary’s Dish” or “Lafayette.” Some ventured into politics. “Hurrah for Heister Clymer*”  Morality, like “Give Drink to the thirsty,” often veered into ‘you had to have been there’ territory. “Honor the human.” Odd phrase, beautiful sentiment.

And some were downright bizarre. “Why will you die.”

To simply end there would be a bit abrupt. What on earth was the story behind that plate? But pondering the chasm between those potters’ motives and our understanding of the physical remains of what they did is exactly what makes the historical enterprise so fascinating.

Readings:

Norwalk Potteries. Andrew and Kate Winton. Phoenix Publishing/Canaan, NH. 1981.

Early New England Potters and Their Wares. Lura Woodside Watkins. Harvard Univ Press/Cambridge MA. 1968.

The Art of the Potter. Diana and J. Garrison Stradling. 1977. Main Street-Universe Books/New York. 1977.

Slipped and Glazed: Regional American Redware. Brian Cullity. 1991. Heritage Plantation of Sandwich/Sandwich MA. 1991.

France

July 8, 2012

English pottery history is fascinating.  Diverse regional styles.  Colorful personalities.  International influence.  Few European pottery centers can compare.  Perhaps Delft, Rhenish stoneware, Italian Maiolica and Hispano-Moresque…

This leaves a pretty big hole right in the middle of Europe.  France.  If you’re really up on your history, you’d know that much of English slip decoration – marbling, feathering, sgraffito – originated in the wine regions of 13th – 14th century Plantagenet controlled Aquitaine and Normandy.  Most authors stick to just mentioning Sévres porcelain and Bernard Palissy.

French peasant pottery, like French wine, was ubiquitous.  This ‘redware’ rarely gets a nod.  Troyes pottery maybe.  Or the venerable pottery villages, chiefly La Bourne, of Poitiers.

Faience permeated France by the early 14th century.  It was made everywhere, from obscure places like Sadriac and Amboise to major centers like Havre and Rouen.  It’s expansion wasn’t always peaceful.  18th century Lille faience potters almost waged open warfare against Dunkirk upstarts cutting in on Lille’s turf.  Even minor faience villages like Roanne would erupt against treaties with England (and devastating imports).

The international porcelain market was cut throat at best.  Sévres originated with runaway workmen, its technical know-how stolen via alcoholic subterfuges.  But during the Napoleonic Wars enough porcelain from large (Limoges, Sceaux, etc.) and small (Strasbourg, Marseilles, etc.) centers was smuggled into England to seriously disrupt the market.

Women played a noticeable role as well.  Hélène de Hangest established an early, and long lived, faience pottery on her estate in Oiron.  Hélène’s ardent patronage was key to faience’s spread across France.  When Lille potter Jaques Febvrier died in 1729 his widow Marie Barbe Vandepopelière expanded the shop, marketing heavily to Holland.  Equally, the unnamed widow of Francois Dorez in Valenciennes continued the trade.  When a Lyons faience pottery faltered in 1733 it’s (male) owners ran.  Françoise Blateran kept it going until 1758.  Did Mme Blateran appear out of thin air?  Were “widows” not potters before their husbands’ death?

Anyway, these and many more French potters rarely get the mention they deserve.  In English, at least.  Much of this abbreviated ‘tour de France’ comes from Albert Jacquemart’s “History of the Ceramic Art” (translated into English, 1873).  Then again, Jacquemart’s 613 page “Descriptive and Philosophical Study of the Pottery of All Ages and All Nations” allows 160 pages for French contributions and exactly 5 pages to the whole of English efforts…

Readings:
History of the Ceramic Art.  Albert Jacquemart.  Sampson, Low, Martson and Searle/London (English translation).  1873.

Flow Blue: A Closer Look.  Jeffrey Snyder.  Shiffer Books/New York.  2000.

If These Pots Could Talk.  Ivor Noel Hume. University Press of New England/Hanover, NH.  2001.

The Concise Encyclopedia of Continental Pottery and Porcelain.  ReginaldHaggar.  Hawthorn Books/New York.  1960.

 

Failure

August 14, 2011

Thomas Toft.  Bernard Pallisy.  Daniel Bailey.  Everybody knows Toft and Pallisy. Two masters of their craft.  Bailey was a small time redware potter from Colonial Massachusetts.  But like Toft and Pallisy, Daniel Bailey was a trailblazer.

Daniel showed promise early, training at his father’s pottery shop.  By 16, he was a full fledged potter.  The potters around him in Newburyport north of Boston made the usual “potts and panns” of the day.  But Daniel tried his hand at tableware.  At teacups.  Plates.  Serving dishes.  Things you might use in the parlor with company.

Redware hadn’t been used this way.  It belonged in the barn and kitchen.  It was the ‘tupperware’ of the day.  The American Revolution’s goal of self sufficiency, showcasing native talent in the face of embargo and blockade, was about to begin.  Daniel Bailey saw the tide coming.

Like Toft and Paillsy, Bailey was swamped by events beyond his control.  Believing he saw a chance to make it on his own, Daniel moved to Gloucester in 1750.  James Gardner, the local potter there and friend of the Bailey family, had just passed away.  The town needed a potter.  Daniel married a Gloucester belle.  Then cholera hit.  Their son, Daniel Jr., died.  The cholera panic caused business to wither.  Daniel retreated to his dad’s shop in Newburyport, taking the reins when his father retired a couple years later.

Toft, Pallisy and Bailey.  Eventually others followed their lead.  A ‘Pallisy school’ assured periodic revivals of “Pallisy ware” for the next two centuries.  The slipware techniques pioneered by Toft spread throughout England, and even held their own against the Staffordshire factory ware tidal wave.  Several shires produced both slip and machine lathed ware for many years.  And on these shores, redware contributed to the cause of 1776…

They each, for a time and in their own unique ways, pushed the envelope.  But there’s an ironic catch to being at the cutting edge.  Toft and Paillisy made all the history books but died paupers.  Daniel Bailey faded to obscurity in relative comfort.

Readings:
Early New England Potters and Their Wares.  Lura Woodside Watkins.  Harvard Univ Press/Cambridge MA.  1968.

The Art of the Potter.  Diana and J. Garrison Stradling.  Main Street-Universe Books/New York.  1977.

Telephone

July 17, 2010

The mounted officer charged the enemy.  Or rallied the troops.  Or  maybe just smoked a pipe while out on a joy ride.  Whatever his intentions, they were important (or interesting) enough to meritDragoon 1 eternal commemoration.  His ride was depicted several times on earthenware plates made in southeastern Pennsylvania between the mid 1770’s and 1849.

So who was this rider?  A Philadelphia Light Horse Dragoon?  He often wielded saber in one hand, pistol in another.  A dragoon on the attack.  His attire suggests this, and the earliest plates date from the Revolutionary War. But  the rider probably morphed into George Washington soon after the General’s death in 1799.  Commemorative prints of Washington were widely popular then.  The rider sometimes blew a bugle, with pistol or saber accompanying, as if George were urging his forces forward.  Here was a known pattern ready to fulfill  demand for memorabilia.

Dragoon 2 WashingtonBut what about the pipe that sometimes appeared?

Possible references to intention and identity were inscribed around the rim of the plates – when one was present, the earliest plates have none.  From 1805: “I have ridden over hill and dale and have found disloyalty everywhere.”  This saying was associated with Washington’s doubts when the going was rough.

But things quickly degenerated: “I have ridden over hill and dale and everywhere have found pretty girls.”  The ride soured: “I have ridden many hours and days and yet no girl will have me.”  The rider became desperate: “A pipe of tobacco does a man as much good as though he spends his money with the girls.”  Then fed up: “A pipe of tobacco does a man as much good as though he spends his dollar in a butcher shop.”  Hope fades: “I have traveled up and down the street and yet my purse Dragoon 4 pipewas empty.”  By ride’s end, around 1849, he was delirious: “I am a  horseman like a bear, I would that I in heaven were.”

The ride reads like a decades long game of telephone.  If many potters took part, why not?  Attribution isn’t always clear, but most of these plates made after 1805 seem to be by Johannes Neesz.  If it was just old Johannes taking us for a ride, well, I’ll leave the final word to him (found on another of his plates):

In olden times it was so, that an old man’s words were taken as true.

Readings:
Lead Glazed Pottery.  Edward Atlee Barber.  Museum of Philadelphia/Philadelphia.  1907.

Tulip Ware of the Pennsylvania-German Potters.  Edwin Atlee Barber.  Dover Publications/New York.  1926.

The Execution of Charles Stuart

August 21, 2009

I am, like many, awed by the talent of Thomas Toft (active 1671 to  1689).  His slipware dishes trace both complicated imagery, and unique perspectives of English history…

Charles in the Oak…so I will start this story a few years earlier, at 2:00pm on Jan. 29, 1649.  Charles Stuart had just ascended the scaffold erected for him in the Banquet Hall of Whitehall, London.  Had he not previously decided that he, as Charles I the King of England, could do no wrong, he might not have angered Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan “Roundheads” to revolt.

The Puritans meant well, but their Commonwealth was a dreary place.  They frowned upon idolatry and frivolous displays of art.  Had they not been so pious, perhaps Toft would not have found a market for his work after their fall.  (Nor, perhaps, would the North American Colonies have been neglected long enough for, as some believe, seeds of independence to be sown.)

Royalists saw their chance when Cromwell died suddenly in 1658.  In 1661 they brought a surprised and grateful son of Charles I to the throne.  Earlier, Charles II had escaped the Roundheads by hiding in an oak tree.  Now, the “Merry Monarch” preferred  parties over revenge.  But his royalist followers wanted blood.  As many Commonwealth leaders as they could round up were drawn and quartered (hung and hacked to pieces).

But the arts flourished.  Decoration was in!  And so was a new drink, coffee.  Imagine the situation; wired on caffeine, no longer constrained by pious dictates, and finally able to decorate to your heart’s content.  This was Toft’s world.

A question comes to mind.  Was Toft as royalist to the bone as his imagery suggests?  What did he think about the butchery following Charles II’s restoration?  Was revenge as important as that first cup in the morning?  Perhaps these questions shouldn’t interfere with our appreciation of his work any more than acknowledging Renoir’s reactionary politics vis á vis the Paris Commune of 1881.  But it does add a curve or two.

Readings:
English Slipware Dishes 1650 – 1850. Ronald Cooper.  Transatlantic Arts/New York.  1968.

The Regicide Brief.  Geoffrey Robertson.  Pantheon Books/New York.  2005.


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