What’s Fair And What Isn’t

“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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2 Responses to “What’s Fair And What Isn’t”

  1. bpracticalpottery Says:

    Bread boxes are on the way out too. Oh, when “about the size of a breadbox” actually had meaning and a visual reference . At least ceramic french butter dishes still have a place in the fridge….

  2. Shot Across the Bow | This Day in Pottery History Says:

    […] pottery precisely because of the colorful designs – not the Moravian religious system.  So modern redware potters probably aren’t major players in today’s psychic damage […]

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