Archive for the ‘Thomas Toft’ Category

Failure

August 14, 2011

Thomas Toft.  Bernard Pallisy.  Daniel Bailey.  Everybody knows Toft and Pallisy. Two masters of their craft.  Bailey was a small time redware potter from Colonial Massachusetts.  But like Toft and Pallisy, Daniel Bailey was a trailblazer.

Daniel showed promise early, training at his father’s pottery shop.  By 16, he was a full fledged potter.  The potters around him in Newburyport north of Boston made the usual “potts and panns” of the day.  But Daniel tried his hand at tableware.  At teacups.  Plates.  Serving dishes.  Things you might use in the parlor with company.

Redware hadn’t been used this way.  It belonged in the barn and kitchen.  It was the ‘tupperware’ of the day.  The American Revolution’s goal of self sufficiency, showcasing native talent in the face of embargo and blockade, was about to begin.  Daniel Bailey saw the tide coming.

Like Toft and Paillsy, Bailey was swamped by events beyond his control.  Believing he saw a chance to make it on his own, Daniel moved to Gloucester in 1750.  James Gardner, the local potter there and friend of the Bailey family, had just passed away.  The town needed a potter.  Daniel married a Gloucester belle.  Then cholera hit.  Their son, Daniel Jr., died.  The cholera panic caused business to wither.  Daniel retreated to his dad’s shop in Newburyport, taking the reins when his father retired a couple years later.

Toft, Pallisy and Bailey.  Eventually others followed their lead.  A ‘Pallisy school’ assured periodic revivals of “Pallisy ware” for the next two centuries.  The slipware techniques pioneered by Toft spread throughout England, and even held their own against the Staffordshire factory ware tidal wave.  Several shires produced both slip and machine lathed ware for many years.  And on these shores, redware contributed to the cause of 1776…

They each, for a time and in their own unique ways, pushed the envelope.  But there’s an ironic catch to being at the cutting edge.  Toft and Paillisy made all the history books but died paupers.  Daniel Bailey faded to obscurity in relative comfort.

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

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

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The Execution of Charles Stuart

August 21, 2009

I am, like many, awed by the talent of Thomas Toft (active 1671 to  1689).  His slipware dishes trace both complicated imagery, and unique perspectives of English history…

Charles in the Oak…so I will start this story a few years earlier, at 2:00pm on Jan. 29, 1649.  Charles Stuart had just ascended the scaffold erected for him in the Banquet Hall of Whitehall, London.  Had he not previously decided that he, as Charles I the King of England, could do no wrong, he might not have angered Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan “Roundheads” to revolt.

The Puritans meant well, but their Commonwealth was a dreary place.  They frowned upon idolatry and frivolous displays of art.  Had they not been so pious, perhaps Toft would not have found a market for his work after their fall.  (Nor, perhaps, would the North American Colonies have been neglected long enough for, as some believe, seeds of independence to be sown.)

Royalists saw their chance when Cromwell died suddenly in 1658.  In 1661 they brought a surprised and grateful son of Charles I to the throne.  Earlier, Charles II had escaped the Roundheads by hiding in an oak tree.  Now, the “Merry Monarch” preferred  parties over revenge.  But his royalist followers wanted blood.  As many Commonwealth leaders as they could round up were drawn and quartered (hung and hacked to pieces).

But the arts flourished.  Decoration was in!  And so was a new drink, coffee.  Imagine the situation; wired on caffeine, no longer constrained by pious dictates, and finally able to decorate to your heart’s content.  This was Toft’s world.

A question comes to mind.  Was Toft as royalist to the bone as his imagery suggests?  What did he think about the butchery following Charles II’s restoration?  Was revenge as important as that first cup in the morning?  Perhaps these questions shouldn’t interfere with our appreciation of his work any more than acknowledging Renoir’s reactionary politics vis á vis the Paris Commune of 1881.  But it does add a curve or two.

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

The Regicide Brief.  Geoffrey Robertson.  Pantheon Books/New York.  2005.