Archive for October, 2013

Five Days of Terror

October 27, 2013

With apologies for the stretch it took to relate this to pottery history.

Never underestimate family reunions.  These rare chances to revel in the past can lead down unexpected paths.  Case in point, Van Meter, IA (current population: 1094).

My brother and I stopped in at the local library to follow up on some turn-of-the-century family headstones in the Van Meter cemetery.  The library had a poster on the wall.  A yellowish green gargoyle-like creature with a glowing light on it’s head dominated the foreground.  Behind, in silhouette, were several mounted cowboys brandishing rifles.  Underneath read: “Five Days of Terror, 1903.”

The story:

U.G. Griffith was returning home around 1am one night in October 1903 when he saw a light on the bank roof.  He approached thinking it might be thieves.  The light darted to another rooftop and disappeared.  The next night, again around 1am, O.V. White, who slept above his hardware store near the bank, was woken by a light shining in his face.  He fired five shots point blank into the hulking figure hovering over him.  O.V. was known for his dead aim, but the creature ran off without leaving a trace. 

Over the next few nights, the “Van Meter Visitor,” as it became known, was seen late at night (only within the two block downtown area of this teeny village, always around 1am).  Encounters inevitably ended with several townsfolk blasting away at the Visitor.  Each time the Visitor escaped, seemingly unharmed.  The Visitor stood about 8 feet tall.  It was half human/half bat with a light on it’s forehead.  It ran like a kangaroo.  And it stank.  A plaster cast was taken of the Visitor’s three-toed footprint to show the local “professor” (the school teacher) who declared it – obviously – an “antediluvian creature of Satan.”

A posse formed.  They tracked the Visitor to an abandoned coal mine.  It sprang out, followed by several juveniles of it’s kind.  The creatures  flew off into the cornfields, shrieking, never to be seen again.

Whether or not these events actually happened, the story is certainly true.  Next time you’re in Van Meter, stop in at the library and see for yourself…

For anyone wondering how on earth this tale might relate to pottery history, unfortunately it doesn’t.  It’s just too bizarre not to mention.  The best that can be done is to end with a  John Polak photograph of some mugs I made recently.



The Van Meter Visitor: A True and Mysterious Encounter with the Unknown.  Chad Lewis, Noah Voss and Kevin Nelson.  On The Road Publications.  2013.



October 13, 2013

The Moravian community of Salem NC, founded in the mid 18th century, believed in austere living and strict religious observance.  But it shouldn’t be surprising that a group this stodgy would produce flowery and exuberant earthenware.  It was all part of their world view.

Then again, as with adherents to any doctrine, Moravian potters were not always above reproach.  Rudolf Christ was the most talented and successful apprentice of Salem’s first master potter Gottfried Aust.  Rudolf also proved to be one of Aust’s more “arrogant and rebellious” charges.  He was a “stupid ass, like other children in the Community.”  And as with unsupervised children anywhere at any time, Rudolf was given to vague but ominous  “evil doings.”

The Moravian Lovefeast perhaps added fuel to the fire.  Lovefeast was (still is) a popular Moravian institution.  Goodwill and congeniality combined to break down social barriers and celebrate fellowship.  Its roots trace back to the beginnings of Christianity.  But congeniality and lack of social barriers are a potent combination.  The early church dropped Lovefeast in favor of stability.

The Moravians brought Lovefeast back in the mid 1770’s.  A large coffee urn by Rudolf Christ bears an inscription on its bottom referencing one such event.  This  Lovefeast would be Rudolf’s last.  He retired from pottery making two months later.

Today we celebrate Lovefeast.
That you can tell by the good turnout.
When this urn is full of coffee
How few are missed.
And when it’s full, then I’m right there.
And when it’s empty, then we’ll sing Hallelujah.
March 12, 1821.

The rebellious, unconventional Rudolf loved a good party, replete with large crowds and stimulating refreshments.  It sounds like he went out with a bang.  Woodstock move over!

The Moravian Potters in North Carolina.  John Bivins.  University of North Carolina Press/Chapel Hill.  1972.

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

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