Archive for January, 2012

Squanamagonic; Land of Clay Hills.

January 22, 2012

Gonic New Hampshire got it’s name, like countless other New England towns, by mangling the original inhabitants name for the place.  There are many indigenous place names referring to pottery across the Americas.  Gonic, known to the local Pennacook Indians as “land of the clay hills,” is particularly interesting because European colonists and their progeny continued the namesake tradition.

19th century pottery making in Gonic was synonymous with the Osborne family.  They were a branch of the Quaker clan from Danvers, MA whose pottery dynasty reached back into the previous century.  In those days, trades like pottery tended to stay within certain families.  Some historians today believe this was due to the particularly long apprenticeship required to become a master.  It made a certain sense as a natural extension of family ties to incorporate relations as they came of age (to get a Master of Fine Arts Degree today takes only two years and parental co-signing of $50,000 in loans).  But another argument (probably from those with teen aged sons) considers the benefits of consigning a strapping young boy to a relative’s household so they can feed him for his teen years…

We can’t know what the Gonic Osbornes’ ulterior motives towards their teenagers were.  But we do know that their mottled green glaze rivaled that of the Tauton, MA potteries who went through positively scandalous amounts of copper.  And apparently the Gonic Osborne’s did a good trade in shaving mugs, or at least many of these have survived.

At some point, brick making must also have been part of the Osborne resume.  Their rectangular corbel arched kilns were akin to brick makers’ scove kilns.  The Osborne’s even used the so called “brick maker’s method” of clay preparation designed to wash out soluble salts before production.  Hillsides were scraped to expose clay seams.  They were plowed and harrowed before a rain, then sun dried.  The clay lumps were broken up and carted off to the pottery.

Labor intensive?  Perhaps.  But that’s what teen aged apprentices were for.


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.

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

About the Pig’s Blood Comment

January 8, 2012

Pottery history is not drenched in blood, despite some blood related comments in this journal – most recently how some rural potters used animal blood to give their glazes a darker tint…

That bit probably should be explained.

Charles Mehwaldt was a third generation potter born in Bruessow Germany in 1808.  After his apprenticeship Mehwaldt worked as a journeyman potter first in Russia and eventually in Lebanon (that an early 19th century German potter would do his journeyman work in the Middle East is interesting enough).  Ultimately he returned to a Germany in the throes of revolution

In 1851 Mehwaldt heard that a colony of Bruessow Germans had formed seven years earlier in Bergholtz, New York.  He and his family emigrated but they almost didn’t make it.  Their ship sank off Long Island.  A tub attached to a cable pulled them ashore.  A barge along the Erie Canal pulled them the rest of the way to Bergholtz.

Mehwaldt cared less for the fabled American clays than those of the old country.  Still, he managed to produced a wide range of utilitarian redware.  At Christmas he made little toy dinner sets and toy whistles.  His daughter recalled years later how “We children helped grind the lead for the glaze [They used a grinding stone basin, a “quern,” which was spun by a long wooden pole.] …My brother and I would count to 100 then rest.”  She also mentioned how Charles used pigs blood to tint his glazes from time to time.

Whitewares pushed the boundaries of pottery making into the thick of the Industrial Revolution.  But darker colored pottery defined the pragmatism of borderland communities like Bergholtz.  It didn’t show dirt.  Remoteness combined with pragmatism has always led potters to find their oxides where they could be found.  Considering the life cycles of farm living, pig’s blood isn’t that big of a leap.


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

The Rise of the Staffordshire Potteries. John Thomas.  Augustus Kelly Publishers/New York.  1971.