Archive for the ‘Maria Crafts Kellog’ Category

Lady’s Slippers

June 6, 2010

A great thing happens on the hills overlooking my town in early June.  The lady’s slippers blossom.  These ‘slipper’ or lung shaped orchids grow wild here.  Years of avid lady’s slipper appreciation has made them almost extinct.  They are now protected under the Endangered Species Act.  But in the mid 1800’s they grew outside many a potter’s door.  They were a favorite of the stoneware slip decorators.  Or maybe they were just a safe bet.

Just about anything could be – and was – fodder for decoration.  Nautical scenes, imaginary animals, sarcastic cartoons, brazen political sloganeering.  Many of these had that “keep me” look, saving them from the trash pit.  But specialized motifs could backfire.  Maybe the crock would travel inland where nautical scenes wouldn’t make sense.  Maybe the bizarre animal or the sarcasm would fall flat or insult.  Who would want that in their kitchen?  Even the Bald Eagle, symbol of the United States, could rub the wrong way.  Perhaps the party in office was a bungling, corrupt monstrosity seeking refuge behind the flag…

But flowers were safe.  Lady’s slippers were (and are) a visually distinct form, masterfully executed by various decorators whose names are now forgotten.  Mostly.  The Smith Pottery in Norwalk, CT, employed a man named Chichester who’s slip trailed penmanship was renowned.

And it wasn’t uncommon for potters to employ their daughters as decorators.  Trailing tools could be passed down to next in line when a girl ‘reached age.’  Some even hold that Maria Crafts Kellog, niece of Thomas Crafts, only decorated jugs and crocks made in Whately MA (because “women didn’t make pottery…”).

Another “in house” arrangement was to own the decorators.  Many southern plantation potteries employed male slaves for throwers and female slaves for decorators.  The plantation owner was the ‘potter’ – he owned the pottery.

In other parts, itinerant decorators might have followed itinerant throwers.  As late as the 1930’s vagrant throwers stayed long enough to fill the shop, earn enough to buy a bottle, and move on.  I’ve only seen passing mention of itinerant decorators.  But their existence can be inferred in the uniformity of design on pots from a variety of places.

Of all the possible decorating methods, I feel the itinerant slippers present the most intimate definition of genuine folk art expression.  Something spanning time and space.  I like that image.

Readings:
Lura Woodside Watkins.

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

American Stonewares. Georgeanna Greer.  American Stonewares.  Schiffer Publishing Ltd./Exton, PA.  1981.

A Guide to Whately Potters. Henry Baldwin.  Paradise Copies/Northampton, MA.  1999.

Turners and Burners, the Folk Potters of North Carolina. Terry Zug.  University of North Carolina Press/Chapel Hill, NC.  1986.

Raised in Clay. Nancy Sweezy.  Smithsonian Institution Press/Washington DC.  1984.

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Women Who Didn’t Make Pottery

August 7, 2009

Women didn’t make pottery.

Or rather, an Interpretive Staff Director of an early American life museum once told me that.  His argument?  Lack of evidence.  No solid documentation shows women making pottery in this country before the “Art Pottery” revival of the 1870’s.  No tax rolls, no signed pots, no probate records, no diaries.

Pottery was rarely classed as a distinct occupation.  Furthermore, some “potters” owned large manufactories, while others were just rural door to door sales people.  Actual pottery makers could alternately be noted as “laborers,” “mechanics” (they worked with machines), or “farmers.”  Hardly anyone wrote about it.  So, women potters?  Where is the evidence?

Some bits and pieces include; Ann Mackdugle, apprenticing to William Kettel in Charleston, MA until 1712; a woman listing herself as an “Earthen Ware Potter Maker” upon disembarking from Ireland in 1716 (Ireland lost it’s only female potter at that time?);  Catharine Bowne, inheriting a shop in Middlesex, NJ and operating it from 1813 into the 1820’s.

More is known of Grace Parker.  She and her husband Isaac made redware from 1713 to 1742 in Charlestown, MA.  By all accounts they did pretty well.  In 1742, they asked for support from the colonial government to attempt stoneware.  They got funding.  While soliciting information from southern stoneware potters, Isaac suddenly died.  Grace carried on.  She was the first potter to make stoneware in New England.  She continued until 1754, when the French Indian War ruined her business and small pox ruined her.   (Some, however, believe Grace was just a manager – because women didn’t make pottery.)

Nobody denies that Maria Crafts Kellog made stoneware in Whately, MA in the 1850’s.  Slip decorated crocks of hers can be seen at the Whately Historical Society.  Crafts Avenue in nearby Northampton was named after the Crafts family.  Thomas Crafts, her uncle and Whatley’s most famous potter, apparently favored Maria.  He, like many potters, farmed out his relations to various locales, establishing new potteries to increase his market.  He sold each of his sons the plot of land of his they settled on.  Only Maria was given a homestead for free.

In indigenous societies, of course, women did make pottery.  It was “part of their domain”.  Even Colono Ware, native pottery for the Anglo market, was made by women.  Still, to this day in many parts of rural Meso America, women potters might rather be called “comalleristas” (cooking dish makers).  It wasn’t until the Spanish introduced the potter’s wheel and all its attendant gadgetry in the 1500’s, that men got involved (or so the evidence suggests).

It is reasonable, even sane, to deny a theory where no evidence exists.  Lots of grief could be avoided by applying this simple rule.  Case in point; our current involvement in Iraq.  But to successfully maintain a pottery culture, it takes a community.

Readings:

Ceramics in America. Ian Quimby, Ed.  University Press of Virginia/Charlottesville.  1972.

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

The Pottery and Porcelain of the United States. Edwin Atlee Barber.  G.P. Putnam’s Sons/New York.  1909.

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

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

A Guide to Whately Pottery and The Potters.  Henry Baldwin.  Paradise Copies/Northampton MA.  1999.

Pottery of the American Indians. Helen Stiles.  E.P. Dutton & Co./New York. 1939.