Archive for December, 2011

What’s Fair And What Isn’t

December 26, 2011

“You’re really into brown, aren’t you?”
– a comment by a neighboring vendor to a redware potter at a modern “contemporary art” craft fair.

We’ll start big and work down.  If all of humanity that ever lived were gathered together, the 21st century contingent would probably be regarded as the strangest bunch.  Within the 21st century, Americans are definitely the most unusual (instantly apparent to anyone spending time outside our borders).  In the US, artists are considered the oddballs.  In the art community, potters are oddballs out in left field.  In the pottery community, redware potters are oddballs in the left field bleachers.  By this measurement, 21st century American redware potters are some of the most bizarre people the planet has ever known.

To complicate matters, the art field places a high value on change.  “What’s new this year?”  Some might think being “new” would be irrelevant to redware.  It’s all “reproduction” right?  Discriminating buyers might value authenticity, but most people look for novelty.

A brief tour of antiques auction web sites is instructive.  Novelty is prized here as much as anywhere.  The most bizarre items with decorative techniques, forms, and/or color palettes that normally shouldn’t be there are there.  The “Keep Me” value assured their survival.

But the overwhelming majority of production during redware’s hay day (c.1730 – 1830) was items like milk pans.  Cheese was the “white meat” of the yeoman diet during most of this time.  Broad, shallow milk pans (aprox. 14″ dia.) allowed for easy skimming of cream for cheese and butter processing.  Being lead glazed hardly mattered.  Lead leaches in contact with acidic materials, but milk is alkaline.  A perfect use for all that dairy in refrigerator-less times.

Goshen, CT potter Hervey Brooks wrote in his ledgers of throwing 14 dozen milk pans in aDodge Kiln Diagram day.  The uniformity achieved by continually cranking out milk pans was  amazing.  Uniformity was necessary for the dense stacking patterns in the old shelf-less kilns.

But today’s dairy industry would laugh at milk pans.  And in the modern house where would they go?  They’re so big.  The milk pan was doomed to extinction.  So for the modern potter in love with early redware, to be “historically authentic” means filling your shop with stuff nobody uses or wants.  Death by the Keep Me value.

The poor milk pan.  It just isn’t fair.

Readings:

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

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

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

Hervey Brooks, Connecticut Farmer-Potter; A Study of Earthenware from His Blotters, 1822-1860.  Lynn, Paul.  State University of New York College at Oneonta, New York.  1969.

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

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

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

Unearthing New England’s Past: The Ceramic Evidence.  Exhibition Catalogue.  Museum of Our National Heritage/Lexington, MA.  1984.

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

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Cylinders

December 11, 2011

Everybody likes to look at pictures.  Especially when the topic is pottery.  So when writing about pottery, a sure way to bore readers is to omit pictures of pots.  Perhaps it’s just difficult for some potters to know what’s going on in the story without a picture every now and then to help them out…

Pictures of broken shards probably don’t count.  Even though quite often more of the ‘big picture’ can be learned about a type, technique or trajectory of development than by looking at just the whole thing.

So what about plain unglazed cylinders?  No bottoms, no tops, just plain, straight sided cylinders.  Pretty boring stuff.  But taking a step back to look at the bigger picture can be instructive.  And hopefully, not always boring.

Some Redware potters, like Hervey Brooks of Goshen CT, kept various sized cylinders about the shop.  On hearing of these, my fist thought was trimming chucks.  But Hervey didn’t trim his pots.

One day it hit me – put a cylinder on a table, fill with a material and scoot into a bucket or quern (grinding stone basin). Seven times for lead, once for “loam,” (clay).  Maybe add a little copper or manganese for extra color (or maybe pigs blood, but that’s another story).  An ingenious way to measure out glaze materials.

Works every time.  Hmm.

Ps.  For those who need pictures, here’s a couple cylinders I keep around my shop.  But these actually are trimming chucks.

Chucks

Readings:

Hervey Brooks, Connecticut Farmer-Potter; A Study of Earthenware from His Blotters, 1822-1860.  Paul Lynn.  State University of New York College at Oneonta/New York.  1969.

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