Archive for November, 2012

Letters From A Neutral Packet

November 25, 2012

Hervey Brooks (Goshen CT, b.1779 – d.1873) loved the Sacred Harp.  He named his two sons Isaac and Watts in honor of Isaac Watts, an 18th century publisher of Sacred Harp music.  Hervey also loved to make redware.  He continued the trade long after most others in the neighborhood had quit.

Hervey must have had high hopes for at least one of his sons to inherit the shop.  Isaac was, in fact, his apprentice.  As such Isaac shared the entire enterprise including selling clams, trading rags, logging, road repair, and of course farming, along with his potting duties.  At one point Hervey had a wagon load of clocks to trade in Georgia.  Isaac was tasked with the journey.  Isaac made it to Georgia and promptly sent word that he would never return home!

History does not record Hervey’s initial reaction to Isaac’s letter.  But an indication of Hervey’s ire appeared in his ledger: “Due from Isaac Brooks – 1 load clocks, 1 wagon, two years apprenticeship training.”  Isaac owed him big!  This entry stayed in Hervey’s ledger for years.

Isaac would never set foot on New England soil again.  One wonders why.  But years later, in the midst of the Civil War, Isaac’s daughter began sending Hervey letters via neutral packets that sailed between Charleston SC and New Haven CT.  Her letters apparently softened Hervey’s wrath enough to cancel the debt.  After the war, with Hervey widowed and aging, she moved up to Goshen to tend to him in his twilight years.

This bittersweet tale hardly rates a footnote in the trajectory of pottery making in America.  But it does suggest a picture of someone, Hervey, so engrossed in his work that for years he was unable to see the interests of others, especially those closest to him.  Ever a danger to the self employed.

Yet redemption is still possible.

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.

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

 

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Communist Vagabond Troublemakers

November 12, 2012

Swashbuckling tales replete with sword play and intrigue are sure-fire crowd pleasers.  But most pottery histories avoid that sort of thing.  Well…

First, the sword play.  Turn-of-the-19th-century Moravian potters of Salem NC employed colorful slipware patterns and playful forms quite in contrast to their strict religious estheticism.  Accounts of Salem market days tell of unruly mobs lunging for anything they could grab from the Moravians’ stalls.  At times the local militia had to come out – swords drawn – to keep the peace.  Moravian pottery was that good.

It all began (more or less) back in 1530.  Catholic zealots chased Protestant artisans out of Faenza Italy.  These artisans ended up in Moravia, southern Germany.  By century’s end they had either split into several groups or their pottery skills spread to other radical communist anabaptist protestant sects also sheltering in Moravia.  These migrant artisan groups, collectively known as “Habaners,” believed in strict  religious communal living and shared property ownership.

But the birth of European Capitalism was a messy thing.  The powers that be reacted savagely to religious deviants and peasant protests.  Trouble hounded the Habaners causing them to fan out across Franconia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Austria, Hungary,  Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and elsewhere.  Some such groups abandoned Europe altogether in favor of North Carolina (the “Moravians”) and elsewhere in America.

Haban pottery was originally limited to a narrow range of shapes, shunning superfluous and “unseemly” decoration.  But income from pottery sales outside the community proved too lucrative.  The bare Haban aesthetic adapted to the temperament of local cultures as the Habaners were buffeted about.  This interplay resulted in colorful slipware for the masses and majolica for the wealthy.   Haban majolica eventually became synonymous with Central European folk pottery between the 17th – 19th centuries.

The austere American Moravians similarly adapted to local raw materials and markets.  Thus the creative slipware defended by militia swords.

Depth of experience and motivation can sometimes be hard to discern in pottery as well as in people.  That’s something to keep in mind when looking at flowery painted pottery from long ago.

Readings:
Ceramics in America.  Robert Hunter, Ed.  University Press of New England/Lebanon, NH.  2009.

Ceramics in America.  Robert Hunter, Ed.  University Press of New England/Lebanon, NH.  2010.

The Concise Encyclopedia of Continental Pottery and Porcelain.  Reginald Haggar.   Hawthorn Books/New York.  1960.