Archive for the ‘Absalom Stedman’ Category

The Hit Parade: The Beat Goes On

May 10, 2015

Central Mosque Djenne 1984 Once again, a big thanks to Rob Hunter and his inspired Ceramics in America 2014 ‘top ten’ issue. 

If my "Hit Parade" were to be about looks alone, I might have included the creative slip applications of English Mocha ware, or the bizarre, twisted explorations of George Orr, or the brilliant cobalt blues of German Westerwald salt-fired stoneware, or the wood-fired stoneware of Richard Bresnahan with whom I did my apprenticeship, etc, etc. etc.

But the genius of this exercise is to explore pottery’s intimate walk with humanity through the ages.  And it invites musing on one’s own relation to this incredible field as well.  Narrowing that down to ten entries is challenge enough!

For example, I could have easily included the Absalom Steadman stoneware jug c. 1823 which received the highest price paid at auction for early American pottery, thus illuminating the status of historic pottery in today’s art economy.  The 1840 William Henry Harrison transfer print pitcher by David Henderson speaks volumes about the part ceramics played in the development of our national politics.  The 11th century Central Mosque in D’jenne, Mali is the world’s largest adobe clay structure.  (But what’s that silly tourist doing there?)  Potters for Peace’s Filtron water purifier project highlights the enormous contributions of pottery to rural community development efforts.  The black pottery of Maria Martinez offers a classic example of pottery and cultural revitalization.  And the curious parallels between Richard Bresnahan’s unique wood firing process and astro-physics is fodder for an entire book in itself.

Every picture tells a story.  So does every pot.  The thing is, when it comes to pottery history’s ‘top 10,’ the story itself is quite often where it’s at.

And the beat goes on

I Should Have Been A Potter

May 13, 2012

As stoneware potters go, Absalom Stedman wasn’t the most colorful  (practically nothing is written about him), nor the most prolific (his pots never seem to have made it into pottery history books).  Absalom made salt-glazed, incised, cobalt decorated stoneware in New Haven, CT during the 1820s -30’s.  But he was capable enough to do some fine work, at Stedman Jugleast now and then.

The three gallon jug to the right is proof of that last comment.  Absalom threw this jug sometime between 1825-30.  Its steady and purposeful form speaks to a lifetime of confidently pursuing the potter’s craft.  The jug is a beautifully proportioned masterpiece of early American stoneware.

The jug is adorned with an incised eagle with shield and Masonic symbol, clutching an American flag and arrows in its talons.  The shielded eagle was a popular motif of the time.  But potters – and many others – hadn’t yet worked out the details of their young country’s icon.  Many eagle depictions were awkward and clumsy (then again, some potters just weren’t that good of draftsmen).  But this sprawling bird gracefully wraps itself around the jug’s shoulder, occupying the space in a most successful manner.

Such a jug would probably have sold for around 16 cents in the mid 1820’s.  Of course, the “dollar” was a different beast then.  It would be difficult to give a relative value of that price today.  Still, 16 cents was pretty cheap even by 1825 standards…

On May 5th, 2012, Absalom’s jug came up for auction by the antiques dealers Pook and Pook.  The winning bid: $402,900.00.  This was a world record for 19th century American stoneware.

Absalom Stedman, where are you now?


Anglo-American Ceramics, Part 1.  Transfer Printed Creamware and Pearlware for the American Market, 1760-1860.  David and Linda Arman.  Oakland Press/Portsmouth, RI.  1998.

American Patriotic and Political China.  Marian Klamkin.  Scribner’s and Sons/New York.  1973.