Archive for the ‘brick making’ Category

20 Million Flower Pots

March 24, 2013

Everybody loves an underdog, as the saying goes.  But whenever a rural occupation confronts an industrial revolution, doom results. 

In this regard, early American redware potters were singularly marked.  They might marry the tavern keeper’s daughter (lots of business was transacted in taverns) or open a dry goods store (another reliable outlet) to avoid their fate.  Some switched to stoneware.  Some quit altogether.

Others found salvation in flowerpots

Abraham Hews of Weston MA wasn’t thinking this when he opened a redware shop in 1765.  He relied on ‘word-of-mouth’ sales within walking distance of Weston instead of the huge nearby Boston market.  Still, probate records at his death put him solidly in the middle income bracket.  In fact his was to be one of the few redware potteries to remain active, from father to son, until 1871. 

Abraham Hews II had big plans for the shop.  He actually listed himself in tax roles as “potter” (Abraham I only ever called himself “yeoman”).  Things went well, even though Abraham II phased out extraneous slip decoration after 1800 like most New England redware potters would.

But the writing was on the wall by the 1860’s.  The Hews family began the switch to flowerpots, both molded and hand made, to stay alive.  They relocated next to clay pits shared by North Cambridge MA brick makers in 1871. 

The Panic of 1893 erased  North Cambridge’s brick industry, leaving all that clay to A.C. Hews & Co.  So perhaps it’s no surprise that at the dawn of the 20th century Hews could boast an output of over 20 million flowerpots. More than anyone.  Anywhere.  Ever. 

Plastics finally slew the Hews clay flowerpot business in the 1960’s.  One family’s 200 year involvement in clay ended.  It might date me, but it’s a personal thrill to think that one small slice of redware pottery history saw it’s closing chapter in my own lifetime. 

It’s nice to feel connected.

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

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

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

The Reshaping of Everyday Life: 1790-1840.  Jack Larkin.  Harper Perennial/New York.  1989.

 

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Squanamagonic; Land of Clay Hills.

January 22, 2012

Gonic New Hampshire got it’s name, like countless other New England towns, by mangling the original inhabitants name for the place.  There are many indigenous place names referring to pottery across the Americas.  Gonic, known to the local Pennacook Indians as “land of the clay hills,” is particularly interesting because European colonists and their progeny continued the namesake tradition.

19th century pottery making in Gonic was synonymous with the Osborne family.  They were a branch of the Quaker clan from Danvers, MA whose pottery dynasty reached back into the previous century.  In those days, trades like pottery tended to stay within certain families.  Some historians today believe this was due to the particularly long apprenticeship required to become a master.  It made a certain sense as a natural extension of family ties to incorporate relations as they came of age (to get a Master of Fine Arts Degree today takes only two years and parental co-signing of $50,000 in loans).  But another argument (probably from those with teen aged sons) considers the benefits of consigning a strapping young boy to a relative’s household so they can feed him for his teen years…

We can’t know what the Gonic Osbornes’ ulterior motives towards their teenagers were.  But we do know that their mottled green glaze rivaled that of the Tauton, MA potteries who went through positively scandalous amounts of copper.  And apparently the Gonic Osborne’s did a good trade in shaving mugs, or at least many of these have survived.

At some point, brick making must also have been part of the Osborne resume.  Their rectangular corbel arched kilns were akin to brick makers’ scove kilns.  The Osborne’s even used the so called “brick maker’s method” of clay preparation designed to wash out soluble salts before production.  Hillsides were scraped to expose clay seams.  They were plowed and harrowed before a rain, then sun dried.  The clay lumps were broken up and carted off to the pottery.

Labor intensive?  Perhaps.  But that’s what teen aged apprentices were for.

Readings

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.

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