Archive for January, 2010

The Secret to Success

January 17, 2010

Rarely did anyone bother to write about pottery making during America’s early days.  One who did was Nathan Clark, working from 1839 to 1851 in Rochester, NY.  He wrote “Rules for Making & Burning Stone Ware.

1st.  Let the wheelman be careful to have every piece run exactly true on the wheel.  Make them of a kind precisely of the same height & width.  Have the ware turned light, of a handsome shape, smooth inside & outside, the bottom a suitable thickness, and a good top.

2nd.  Let it be handsomely & smoothly polished in proper season.

3rd.  Let the ware when dry be carefully set in the loft washed and blued.

4th.  Let the plats be well made, Kiln cleaned out and mended in complete order for setting.

5th.  Care must be taken to set the courses plum and one piece exactly over the other.

6th.  Have your wood in good order, raise your fire progressively, neither too fast nor too slow.  Examine well & understand the management of your Kiln so as to heat all parts alike.  Be careful not to throw your wood in the arches too soon or do any other act that may have a tendency to retard the heat.  When fit to glaze have your salt dry.  Scatter it well in every part of your Kiln (during this act you must keep a full and clear blaze so as to accelerate the glazing and give the ware a bright gloss).  Stop it perfectly tight and in six days you may draw a good kiln of ware.

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

Fire on the Mountain

January 3, 2010

For people of a certain age, enumerating the many wars the US instigated throughout the 19th century in the Caribbean and Central America should come as no surprise.  Our meddling in this region is not typically taught in schools.  But during the 1980’s Central American Solidarity groups tried to make that story more recognized.

Even less known are the various wars fought between the colonies, and later between individual states in this country.  Sticking to pottery history, the war between New Hampshire and New York will do.

On Jan 3, 1749 New Hampshire’s Royal Governor Benning Wentworth obtained a land grant from King George III for territory between the Merrimac and Hudson Rivers.  Bennington, the territory’s first settlement, was named in the governor’s honor.  Kith and kin were called to populate the territory after the French Indian War.

By then, New York also successfully petitioned for roughly the same territory.  Both colonies now felt they had sole rights to this real estate.  Imagine the looks on everyone’s face when New Yorkers stumbled into Bennington, claiming it as theirs!  (Somehow, the Abenaki, Mahican and Pennacook Indians never entered the equation.)

The issue soon came to blows.  Each side now called on kin to defend their land from the invader.  Official, quasi-official, and semi-quasi-official militias roamed the country, burning rival settlements.  New Hampshire’s top militia leader Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys were particularly good at their job.

Things would have escalated, had not the Revolutionary War intervened.  A compromise was reached.  “The Republic of Vermont” would be independent, but eventually folded into the United States.  Both sides could now focus on evicting the redcoats…

…This is where pottery history comes in.  A nephew of Allen’s living in Goshen CT heeded the call and marched north.  But after the “shots heard round the world” in Lexington and Concord, Jonathan Norton enlisted in the Continental Army.  Jonathan was promoted to captain after the Battle of Bennington.  Later, he was a guard at the execution of Major Andre, the British handler of turncoat Benedict Arnold.  After the war Captain John Norton settled in Bennington, founded the Norton Pottery, and became wider than he was tall.  Ethan Allen died on a British prison ship never knowing this.

If there’s a point here, it is simply that the story of how things got to be the way they are can be instructive.  In this case, it’s the difference between a sound bite image of patriots defending their homes, and a saga of people who would have killed each other were it not for a common enemy.  Two very different images indeed.

How the States Got Their Shapes. Mark Stein.  HarperCollins Publishers/New York.  2009.

The Jug and Related Stoneware of Bennington. Cornelius Osgood.  Charles Tuttle Co./Rutland, VT. 1971.