Archive for August, 2009

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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Women Who Didn’t Make Pottery

August 7, 2009

Women didn’t make pottery.

Or rather, an Interpretive Staff Director of an early American life museum once told me that.  His argument?  Lack of evidence.  No solid documentation shows women making pottery in this country before the “Art Pottery” revival of the 1870’s.  No tax rolls, no signed pots, no probate records, no diaries.

Pottery was rarely classed as a distinct occupation.  Furthermore, some “potters” owned large manufactories, while others were just rural door to door sales people.  Actual pottery makers could alternately be noted as “laborers,” “mechanics” (they worked with machines), or “farmers.”  Hardly anyone wrote about it.  So, women potters?  Where is the evidence?

Some bits and pieces include; Ann Mackdugle, apprenticing to William Kettel in Charleston, MA until 1712; a woman listing herself as an “Earthen Ware Potter Maker” upon disembarking from Ireland in 1716 (Ireland lost it’s only female potter at that time?);  Catharine Bowne, inheriting a shop in Middlesex, NJ and operating it from 1813 into the 1820’s.

More is known of Grace Parker.  She and her husband Isaac made redware from 1713 to 1742 in Charlestown, MA.  By all accounts they did pretty well.  In 1742, they asked for support from the colonial government to attempt stoneware.  They got funding.  While soliciting information from southern stoneware potters, Isaac suddenly died.  Grace carried on.  She was the first potter to make stoneware in New England.  She continued until 1754, when the French Indian War ruined her business and small pox ruined her.   (Some, however, believe Grace was just a manager – because women didn’t make pottery.)

Nobody denies that Maria Crafts Kellog made stoneware in Whately, MA in the 1850’s.  Slip decorated crocks of hers can be seen at the Whately Historical Society.  Crafts Avenue in nearby Northampton was named after the Crafts family.  Thomas Crafts, her uncle and Whatley’s most famous potter, apparently favored Maria.  He, like many potters, farmed out his relations to various locales, establishing new potteries to increase his market.  He sold each of his sons the plot of land of his they settled on.  Only Maria was given a homestead for free.

In indigenous societies, of course, women did make pottery.  It was “part of their domain”.  Even Colono Ware, native pottery for the Anglo market, was made by women.  Still, to this day in many parts of rural Meso America, women potters might rather be called “comalleristas” (cooking dish makers).  It wasn’t until the Spanish introduced the potter’s wheel and all its attendant gadgetry in the 1500’s, that men got involved (or so the evidence suggests).

It is reasonable, even sane, to deny a theory where no evidence exists.  Lots of grief could be avoided by applying this simple rule.  Case in point; our current involvement in Iraq.  But to successfully maintain a pottery culture, it takes a community.

Readings:

Ceramics in America. Ian Quimby, Ed.  University Press of Virginia/Charlottesville.  1972.

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

The Pottery and Porcelain of the United States. Edwin Atlee Barber.  G.P. Putnam’s Sons/New York.  1909.

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

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

A Guide to Whately Pottery and The Potters.  Henry Baldwin.  Paradise Copies/Northampton MA.  1999.

Pottery of the American Indians. Helen Stiles.  E.P. Dutton & Co./New York. 1939.