Archive for January, 2011

The True Story of The Industrial Revolution.

January 30, 2011

Josiah Wedgwood was angry.  He didn’t like how the price of Prussian Blue, one of his colorants, had risen since it first became available.  Potters across Europe had for centuries admired the brilliant blues they originally saw on pots coming from the east – from the tin glazed Iznik wares in Anatolia to the tonnage of Chinese blue and white porcelains that flooded Europe from the 17th century onward.  The cobalt required to achieve these hues was available but expensive.  A cheaper local alternative was highly sought after.

In 1772 someone in Germany got the bright idea of mixing bullock blood with potash.  They calcined the mess and ended up with a prussiate of potash.  When this prussiate was dissolved in water, voila!  Prussian Blue!

Soon thereafter the Davidson and Davenport chemical manufacturing company in Newcastle upon Tyne, Scotland acquired the formula.  (How they pulled that off might make for an interesting story.)  Once word got out that a domestic Prussian Blue was available, a large number of English potteries jumped on the blue band wagon, Wedgwood included.

Business boomed.  So much so that Davidson and Davenport hired Northumbrian potter and tile maker Antony Hilcote to mass produce prussiate of potash.  He set up a “Blood-Works” on the west bank of the Firth of Forth.  Even on a factory scale, demand was such that prices inevitably rose.  So there was Wedgwood, complaining to his partner Thomas Bentley about the three guineas a pound he now had to pay for it…

The neighbors of Hilcote’s Blood-Works had more to complain about.  From local accounts, they were downright disgusted.

Readings:
Pratt Ware. John and Griselda Lewis.  Antique Collector’s Club/Woodbridge, Suffolk, England.  1984.

 

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Competition

January 16, 2011

This is the kind of stuff you can read about anywhere:

…Redware potteries were a common sight in most areas of Colonial and Federalist America. A few places with stoneware clay deposits, or sufficient river access for stoneware clay shipments, had both stoneware and redware potteries. A very few had both under one roof. Lead glazed redware began to fade away once canals and railroads made cheap access to the sturdier salt fired stoneware possible almost anywhere.  Blah blah blah…

On the other hand, there is very little documentation about how the individuals involved actually felt about the transition.

But one illuminating conversation between a stoneware and a redware potter has survived. Rather, the exchange was recounted many years later by Daniel Arrit to Marion Rawston in her 1938 book Candleday Art. Daniel had worked for stoneware potter George Fulton in Botecourt, MD. Much of Fulton’s wares were sold in nearby Blacksburg where Thomas Waddle had a redware shop. The encounter, according to Daniel, went like this:

“You know, marm, this was good stoneware, not that no ‘count red earthen ware. You could bile [boil] in our stoneware. I’ve drive the wagon many a time to Blacksburg, and there old Waddle that sold the redware would see me coming and shout, “what you bringing that no ‘count stuff to this town for?” And I’d shout back, “yours is the no ‘count stuff, ain’t burnt to a body. Mine’s burnt to a stone body. Give me a piece of your old no ’count ware, I want to pitch it down the road a piece.” So I pitched one of my crocks down the road twenty feet and it never broke none. His’n? He daren’t give me any. He went out of business afore long.”

‘Pitching crocks down the road’ to prove a point. What would Waddle have said about that exchange?

Reading:
American Stoneware. William Ketchum.  Holt & Co./New York.  1991.

Eleazer Orcutt

January 2, 2011

If I could travel back in time to speak with any 19th century American potter, Eleazer Orcutt would make the short list.  He wouldn’t be alone on that list, but few others were so involved with so many potteries in so many places.

A handful of individuals can be credited with transforming pottery making in certain areas.  Athens, NY potter Nathan Clark almost single handedly trained enough potters to make New York the “Stoneware State.”  Bennington’s Norton family left their mark by setting standards nearly impossible to duplicate.  Moravian Rudolf Christ left a unique body of work that continues to astound.  But stoneware potter Eleazer Orcutt belongs to that small group who played a direct, personal role in pottery development across a vast geographic expanse.

There was a surprising amount of mobility during Eleazer’s lifetime.  Many potters worked in multiple places.  Immigrant English masters like Staffordshire’s Daniel Greatbatch were in great demand from Vermont to South Carolina to Illinois.  Sometimes entire families, like the Crafts’ of Whately MA, would fan out across several states to take advantage of local markets.  Orcutt’s family, also from Whately, followed this path.  They were not only friends and often times business partners with the Crafts,’ but in-laws as well.  Imagine those family reunions!

Family dynasties were common.  The Osborne family of Quaker potters was active throughout New England during the 18th century.  The Bell family seems to have dominated Virginia and Maryland in the 19th century.  Various pottery clans of Georgia and the Carolina’s continue to produce master potters to this day.

Then there were the drifters.  They’d blow into town, fill your shop with pots, earn some cash, buy some whiskey, and be gone.  They seem to have been a particularly common sight in many late 19th – early 20th century southern rural jugtowns – although Christopher Webber Fenton attracted his share of ‘less savory’ folks to the Norton Pottery in Bennington during his tenure there in the mid 1840’s.

Eleazer Orcutt’s resume places him at either the beginning or the height of several major pottery regions in the Northeastern US.  Whately and Ashfield, MA. Portland, ME. All over New York, from Troy to Poughkeepie, Lasingburgh and Albany…  Not as a vagrant potting drifter.  He was instrumental in establishing potteries in many of these places.

The wealth of experience Eleazer Orcutt carried with him must have been amazing.  But he is gone now.  And we’re left with just the internet.

Readings:
American Potters and Pottery. John Ramsey.  1939.  Colonial Press/Clinton, MA.

American Stoneware.  William Ketchum.  1991.  Holt & Co./New York.

Early Potters and Potteries of New York State. William Ketchum.  Funk & Wagnalls/New York.  1970.

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

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.

The Early Potters and Potteries of Maine. M. Lelyn Branin.  Wesleyan University Press/Middletown Ct.  1978.

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

American Redware. William Ketchum.  Holt & Co./NY.  1991.