Archive for April, 2013

The Good, The Bad, and The Legal Issues

April 21, 2013

Dirk Claesen was good.  So good the captain of the Graef, sailing Claesen to New Amsterdam from Leeuwerden Holland in 1654, wrote him a letter of introduction.  Claesen was an “extraordinary potter” who “resolves to fix his abode upon the island of Manhattan or Long Island, then you procure him a convenient situation for his settlement and to establish a pottery as he remains satisfied.”

Dirk Claesen truly was good.  He soon married and bought property.  His “potbaker’s corner” plot was the city’s redware production focal point for the next 150 years.  In 1657 Dirk became the first of only four “pottmakers” to receive New Amsterdam Burgher Rights.  His pottery skills served him well.

But things went bad.  Dirk remarried twice.  Legal problems hounded him and his three wives.  In 1655 Wife #1 sued a man for hitting her.  She sued another for stealing her canoe.  Dirk sued Andries Hoppen to pay for pots Hoppen ordered.

In 1660 Wife #1 was sued to pay for wine and beaver pelts she ordered (losing despite Dirk’s plea that he “knows nothing better than that is all paid and sent plaintiff.”).  Wife #2 was sued when her hogs rooted in a neighbor’s garden.  Dirk was sued to take back Wife #1, “the aforesaid woman suffers great want and lies on straw without bed or bedding… and has the ague.”  (She died, ending the case.)

In 1665 Dirk sued Anthony Dirkzen for taking salary as an employee then running off “to fight indians.”  In 1670 Dirk sued to get paid for a brick carrying job.  In 1673 Wife #2 was sued to pay for two beaver pelts.

In 1675 Dirk and Wife #3 were sued by children of Wives 1 and 2 for some property.  Dirk was sued for cutting William Phillips’s nose so badly “that it hung down over his lipps; which is contrary to law and the Peace of our Sovereign Lord the King, etc.”  Apparently, his daughter “had by her impudence enticed William Phillips to come into bed to her, where her father, the potbaker, finding them, caused the disturbance.  The act being found to be evil, she was committed to the sheriff’s custody.”

What’s missing in this messy tale is any description of Dirk Claesen’s pottery.  He was, after all, “extraordinary” at it.  The moral of the story?  Pots come and pots go, but your rap sheet lasts forever.

Early Potters and Potteries of New York State.  William Ketchum.  Funk & Wagnalls/New York.  1970.


A Jersey Outset

April 7, 2013

Why did men used to need a dowry bribe to marry?  Fortunately, these enlightened days offer men an alternative prenuptial pageant.  And women get bridal showers, so goods are still exchanged.

In the early 19th century a working class bride might instead expect to receive an “outset,” a collection of useful items given by her parents on occasion of her marriage.  People needed many things to start up a household.  Silverware.  Bedding.  Furniture.  And pottery.  Especially inexpensive redware slip trailed with moralistic adages.

Chamber pots were a common gift.  Various kinds of dishes were another.  These were occasions when the parent (or the potter) could have some fun.  “When this you see remember me…”  Or offer words of advice.  “Give drink to the thirsty.”  Or instruct in proper living.  “Visit the sick.”  Sgraffito potters also got in on the act with whole sentences scrawled around plate rims.  “Eating is for existence and life, drinking is also good besides.”  Words to live by.

But one wonders at some sayings trailed onto outset gift plates.  Take, for example, the bacon plate shown below.  “Hard times in Jersey.”  The two most likely makers of this plate were either Henry Van Saun who ran a “Pottery Bake Shoppe” near New Milford, NJ from 1811 to 1829, or George Wolfkiel who bought the old Van Saun shop in 1847 and ran it until 1867.  Wolfkiel is believed to have made a set of dishes for the wedding of a certain Mrs. Zabriskie in nearby Ramsey.  It’s possible that this plate was part of her outset.

You can see this bacon plate today at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford CT.  But what was the message to young Mrs. Zabriskie on the occasion?  Good luck?  Oh well?  Told you so?

Hard times in Jersey

The Reshaping of Everyday Life.  John Worrel.  Harper Perennial/New York.  1989.

Kitchen Ceramics.  Selsin, Rozensztroch, and Cliff.  Abbeville Press/New York.  1997.