Archive for the ‘Hervey Brooks’ Category

The Coptic Dot

June 26, 2016

Pretty much everything mentioned below actually happened.  The only question is – did it?

Can a dot be more than just a dot?  Who knows?  Who cares?

Perhaps we should back up a bit.  My first serious encounter with early pottery, and with making pottery in those styles, began with my tenure at the living history museum of Old Sturbridge Village.  Among those old pots which grabbed my attention were curiously dotted 18th century English slipwares.  When I saw a jar replete with a dotted slipware bird attributed to 19th century Connecticut potter Hervey Brooks, whose work is interpreted at OSV, a somewhat snarky thought struck me: to make slipware look old, just stick some dots on it!

Later, while exploring delftware, I noticed dots regularly lining borders and filling spaces on tin-glazed pottery across the spectrum.

Where did all these dots come from?

Years earlier I had come across an illustrated history of the Book of Kells.  Dots galore!  Given the proselytizing nature of 6th century Irish monks throughout the British Isles, maybe their dotted imagery inspired later slipware potters via old illuminated parish bibles.  But why did the Irish dot their imagery in the first place?  And what of those delft dots?

Dipping back into Irish monastic history, these Scholastic monks traveled far and wide to collect the most valued commodity of their time: books.  This is how the Irish “saved Western civilization from the Dark Ages.”  Did roaming Irish monks collect Egyptian Coptic Christian manuscripts during their sojourns in Venice, Alexandria or Sicily?  The Copts decorated their texts with a plethora of dense, sinewy, floral designs – including lots of dots.  Might these dotted Coptic patterns have inspired the illumination masters of Iona, Lindesfarne and Kells?

When Islam washed across Egypt a century later, did the Umayyad imams adopt the Coptic dot for their own illumination purposes?  Were their Korans among the loot pillaged by rampaging Mongols and brought back to China?  If so, this persistent little dot would be present when equally dense cobalt blue designs blossomed on white Chinese porcelain.  The dot certainly re-invaded 16th century Europe by latching onto carrack porcelain, inspiring delftware (among other styles) and forever changing pottery history.

Is the dot a sort of visual virus, attaching onto a host for survival and propagation?  I’ve seen no scholarly opinion supporting this thesis.  I’ve seen none about dots at all.  So I’ll just leave it out there…

Readings:
English Slipware Dishes, 1650 – 1850.  Ronald Cooper.  Transatlantic Arts/New York.  1968

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.

English and Irish Delftware, 1570 – 1840.  Aileen Dawson.  British Museum Press/London.  2010.

The Book of Kells.  Edward Sullivan.  Crescent Books/New York.  1986.

How the Irish Saved Civilization.  Thomas Cahill.  Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group/New York.  1995.

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Hervey to Some

June 15, 2014

What’s in a name?  Everything, obviously.  Especially when it’s your own name.

This was particularly true for Goshen, CT redware potter Hervey Brooks (1779-1873).  As a child, his parents referred to him as ‘Harvey.’  When his sister Clarissa moved to Missouri Territory in the 1830’s, she addressed her letters to ‘Harvey.’  When he tried to go west like Clarissa and so many others, his mom wrote to him as ‘Harvey.’  (He only got as far as Granville, NY before eventually returning to Goshen.)  Back home his brother John called him ‘Harvey.’  Surviving letters in Old Sturbridge Village’s research library indicate pretty much his whole family called him ‘Harvey’ his entire life.

Of course, spelling was an iffy art form in the early 19th century.  Standardization came later, thanks in great part to Noah Webster.  But its a fair bet to assume intention with spelling that consistent.  And ‘Harvey’ isn’t such an odd name after all – if a bit rare for the time. 

Yet he wrote ‘Hervey’ on every document he ever signed.  He presented himself to the world as "Hervey" his entire adult life.  Again, consistency.

Why ‘Hervey?’  One theory (supported only by the above mentioned observations) imagines him as an adolescent.  Young and rearing to go.  This was the era between the Revolution and the War of 1812 when the entire country was redefining itself.  Creating the new out of the known.  Maybe youth culture expressed itself then, as it so often does, with slang vocabulary and nick-names unique to that atmosphere.  Maybe ‘Hervey’ was one such nick-name.  Maybe he proudly wore it the rest of his life like an old hippy’s long hair.

But none of his relatives seemed to buy into the ‘Hervey’ thing.  Ever. 

So imagine this scenario.  He died.  His family had to arrange his funeral.  They had to pick out a head stone.  They had to instruct the mason what name to carve onto the stone. 

This was their chance.

What would it be?  ‘Hervey’ or ‘Harvey?’

Hervey Brooks Headstone

Readings:

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

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. 

 

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.

 

What’s Fair And What Isn’t

December 26, 2011

“You’re really into brown, aren’t you?”
– a comment by a neighboring vendor to a redware potter at a modern “contemporary art” craft fair.

We’ll start big and work down.  If all of humanity that ever lived were gathered together, the 21st century contingent would probably be regarded as the strangest bunch.  Within the 21st century, Americans are definitely the most unusual (instantly apparent to anyone spending time outside our borders).  In the US, artists are considered the oddballs.  In the art community, potters are oddballs out in left field.  In the pottery community, redware potters are oddballs in the left field bleachers.  By this measurement, 21st century American redware potters are some of the most bizarre people the planet has ever known.

To complicate matters, the art field places a high value on change.  “What’s new this year?”  Some might think being “new” would be irrelevant to redware.  It’s all “reproduction” right?  Discriminating buyers might value authenticity, but most people look for novelty.

A brief tour of antiques auction web sites is instructive.  Novelty is prized here as much as anywhere.  The most bizarre items with decorative techniques, forms, and/or color palettes that normally shouldn’t be there are there.  The “Keep Me” value assured their survival.

But the overwhelming majority of production during redware’s hay day (c.1730 – 1830) was items like milk pans.  Cheese was the “white meat” of the yeoman diet during most of this time.  Broad, shallow milk pans (aprox. 14″ dia.) allowed for easy skimming of cream for cheese and butter processing.  Being lead glazed hardly mattered.  Lead leaches in contact with acidic materials, but milk is alkaline.  A perfect use for all that dairy in refrigerator-less times.

Goshen, CT potter Hervey Brooks wrote in his ledgers of throwing 14 dozen milk pans in aDodge Kiln Diagram day.  The uniformity achieved by continually cranking out milk pans was  amazing.  Uniformity was necessary for the dense stacking patterns in the old shelf-less kilns.

But today’s dairy industry would laugh at milk pans.  And in the modern house where would they go?  They’re so big.  The milk pan was doomed to extinction.  So for the modern potter in love with early redware, to be “historically authentic” means filling your shop with stuff nobody uses or wants.  Death by the Keep Me value.

The poor milk pan.  It just isn’t fair.

Readings:

Domestic Pottery of the Northeastern United States, 1625-1850.  Sarah Peabody Turnbaugh, Ed.  Academic Press/New York.  1985.

The English Country Pottery, Its History and Techniques.  Peter Brears.  Charles Tuttle Co./Rutland, VT.  1971.

Norwalk Potteries.  Andrew and Kate Winton.  Phoenix Publishing/Canaan, NH.  1981.

Hervey Brooks, Connecticut Farmer-Potter; A Study of Earthenware from His Blotters, 1822-1860.  Lynn, Paul.  State University of New York College at Oneonta, New York.  1969.

The Early Potters and Potteries of Maine.  M. Lelyn Branin. Wesleyan University Press/Middletown Ct.  1978.

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

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

Unearthing New England’s Past: The Ceramic Evidence.  Exhibition Catalogue.  Museum of Our National Heritage/Lexington, MA.  1984.

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

Cylinders

December 11, 2011

Everybody likes to look at pictures.  Especially when the topic is pottery.  So when writing about pottery, a sure way to bore readers is to omit pictures of pots.  Perhaps it’s just difficult for some potters to know what’s going on in the story without a picture every now and then to help them out…

Pictures of broken shards probably don’t count.  Even though quite often more of the ‘big picture’ can be learned about a type, technique or trajectory of development than by looking at just the whole thing.

So what about plain unglazed cylinders?  No bottoms, no tops, just plain, straight sided cylinders.  Pretty boring stuff.  But taking a step back to look at the bigger picture can be instructive.  And hopefully, not always boring.

Some Redware potters, like Hervey Brooks of Goshen CT, kept various sized cylinders about the shop.  On hearing of these, my fist thought was trimming chucks.  But Hervey didn’t trim his pots.

One day it hit me – put a cylinder on a table, fill with a material and scoot into a bucket or quern (grinding stone basin). Seven times for lead, once for “loam,” (clay).  Maybe add a little copper or manganese for extra color (or maybe pigs blood, but that’s another story).  An ingenious way to measure out glaze materials.

Works every time.  Hmm.

Ps.  For those who need pictures, here’s a couple cylinders I keep around my shop.  But these actually are trimming chucks.

Chucks

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.

Lead Glazed Pottery.  Edward Atlee Barber.  Museum of Philadelphia/Philadelphia.  1907.

 

It May Be Remembered

December 20, 2009

It may be remembered that I have made a kiln of ware this summer, consisting of milkpans, some pots, pudding pans & wash bowls, but mostly of stove tubes and flowerpots, and have this day finished burning the same, Hervey Brooks”.  September 23rd, 1864.

Hervey Brooks was a rare breed.  He had been making redware pottery in Goshen CT for almost 60 years.   Others gave up long before, either in favor of stoneware, to work in the mills, or to seek better fortunes elsewhere.

Like most potters then, Hervey wore many hats; selling rags, working the roads, making fence poles, trading everything from clocks to oysters, even publishing music for the Sacred Harp.  In his heyday, Hervey could throw 14 dozen milk pans a day.  All this during the time a farmer had between seasons.  Hervey wasn’t a full time potter.  Nor was he particularly gifted.  But he’s a blessing to posterity because an almost complete record of his output still exists in the ledgers he kept throughout his life.

For those who care to see, Hervey’s notes offer a precious glimpse into his world.  “It may be remembered…”  He was writing to us, today.   “…that I have made a kiln of ware this summer…”  Stove tubes and flower pots were the last hold-out items of the redware trade.  They generally turned the notion of “potter” into a factory worker.  But Hervey wanted us to know he still made the old stuff.  “…and have this day finished burning the same.”

He was then 85 years old.  Hervey had fired only one kiln a year for some time.  This was his last.  Included in the journal entry was an account of his wife’s burial.  They had been married for over half a century.

It is easy to assume, given the wide range of activities that people like Hervey Brooks were involved in, that redware wasn’t considered terribly special – even to its makers.  But ask any potter.  Nobody would write such a note if they didn’t deeply care about what they were doing.

Reading:
Hervey Brooks, Connecticut Farmer-Potter; A Study of Earthenware from His Blotters, 1822-1860. Paul Lynn,  Oneonta State University/New York.  1969.