Archive for October, 2011

The Great Road

October 30, 2011

Seemingly inconsequential moments sometimes result in life long lessons.  In an episode of the 1960’s colonial frontier TV series “Daniel Boone,” his son gets lost for a time.  When the son realizes he’s stumbled into the Cumberland Gap, he finds his way home.  The Cumberland Gap.  A geography lesson about an important colonial passageway across the Appalachian Mountains that a certain kid growing up in Des Moines, IA never forgot.

Many years later, when I became interested in early American pottery, I heard of another famous route.  The Great Wagon Road, also called The Great Road, sprawled from Philadelphia PA, to Augusta, GA (1770 – 1880).  Like the Appalachians that it traversed, different sections of The Great Road had different names.  It was The Valley Pike in the Shenandoah Valley.  Farther south it was The Carolina Road.  And of course the whole thing developed along a pre-existing Indian route (some parts of Virginia even called it The Great Warrior’s Trail).  The Great Road brought all the contemporary comforts to the local inhabitants – at least in areas where wagons could actually use it.

Several potteries existed along The Great Road.  Wythe and Washington Counties, VA, and Sullivan and Carter Counties, TN were particularly active.  These were mostly redware potters.  Historians today generally lump them together as “Great Road Pottery.”

A Great Road Pottery exhibit would reveal differences between potters and areas.  Some of the more southern potters were influenced by the North Carolina Moravians (domed lids and wavy green and white slip trailed decoration).  More northerly potters reflected the Germanic and Anglo-Saxon communities of the mid-Atlantic region (large looped handles with stamped ends and either daubs or trailed imagery in manganese).  But overall, the forms were basic work-a-day items intended for heavy use around the farm.

It makes sense to consider Great Road potters as a distinct group even though they were working in fairly isolated conditions.  They all used similar raw materials to serve similar rural communities in similar ways.  This insular context constitutes a core definition of what used to be called “style.”

It would be hard to apply that definition to any random area today.  Even though we also work in isolated studios using similar commercial materials to serve similar art market communities.  Then again, we shouldn’t confuse “style” with individualized “flair” – however expressive the latter might be.

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

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41°43 55″N 49°56 45″W

October 15, 2011

Chamber pots elicit more interest from historians than almost any other pottery type.  Maybe it’s just that “potty humor” is so hard to resist, even for professionals.  Historians and especially archeologists would counter that chamber pots provide excellent dating of sites.  Entire chronologies of occupation can be built on the progression of chamber pot styles found at any given location.

The general picture (as relating to England’s North American Colonies) goes sort of like this:

  • Early 17th century, Westerwald grey stoneware chambers are common;
  • Around 1660, Westerwald with manganese decoration begins;
  • After 1689, Rhenish salt glazed chambers arrive  thanks to the co-regency of William and Mary (The sheer volume of German stoneware chambers found here conjures up curious images of ships loaded with chamber pots thrashing their way across the Atlantic.);
  • Around 1700, Delft gets into the market;
  • By the 1740’s, English white salt fired chambers take over;
  • By 1770, Scratch blue is all the rage;
  • Very soon thereafter comes transfer print Creamware;
  • Of course, Chinese export porcelain and local production season the mix.

Chamber pots made very practical – and popular – wedding gifts.  This can be borne out by various endearing sayings written on them such as “Each morning I salute you with a loving caress.”  Or, “When it’s time for you to piss, think of one who gave you this.”  For the biblically minded “Lot’s wife looked back.”  And who could resist a political dig once in a while?  Not Josiah Wedgwood.  While he personally agreed with Prime Minister William Pitt on American independence, he nevertheless saw the profit potential from chambers inscribed “We will shit on Mr. Pitt.”  The list goes on.  And on…

…OK, potty humor.

For me, though, the most powerful emotion that chamber pots elicit is sadness.  I think of the most tragic pot I’ve ever come across.  It’s an ironstone chamber pot.  White, plain, no frills or decorations.  Machine molded probably just before 1912.

By itself, there would be nothing remarkable about this chamber pot.  Except it’s location.  It is sitting perfectly upright on the floor of the Atlantic ocean.  It’s last, and quite probably only user was a passenger on the ill fated RMS Titanic.

Readings:
American Stonewares.  Georgeanna Greer.  Schiffer Publishing Ltd./Exton, PA.  1981.

Ceramics in America.  Quimby, Ian, 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 Concise Encyclopedia of Continental Pottery and Porcelain.  Reginald Haggar.  Hawthorn Books/New York.  1960.

The English Country Pottery, Its History and Techniques.   Peter Brears.  Charles Tuttle Co./Rutland, VT.  1971.

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

North Devon Pottery and its Export to America in the 17th Century.  C. Malcolm Watkins.  Smithsonian Inst./Wash DC.  1960.

Clay in the Hands of the Potter, An exhibition of pottery manufacture in the Rochester and Genesee Valley Region c. 1793-1900.   Rochester Museum and Science Center.  1974.

Stoneware: White Salt-Glazed, Rhenish and Dry Body.  Gérard Gusset.  National Historic Parks and Sites Branch, Parks Canada, Environment Canada/Ministry of the Environment, Ottawa, Canada.  1980.

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.