Archive for the ‘bricks’ 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

Lake Hitchcock

March 4, 2012

Lake Hitchcock doesn’t exist.  But I learned something about it when picking up bricks in my yard after my old chimney collapsed/was torn down. 

Old bricks are useful for any number of things.  I gathered up the debris and stored it for, well, whatever.  Many of the bricks had the name “Pray” on them.  As my house is 120 years old, there must have been a Pray brick making company somewhere near here at that time.

Casual research (ie; Google) into the Pray Brickyard exposed an entire field of brick obsession.  There are research sites, forums, blogs, etc.  How interesting can a brick be?  If you’ve ever stood inside a Hoffman brick kiln during a firing and saw the glowing stack, you’d probably say “Ok, this is pretty cool.”  (Especially if the brickyard was located in the shadow of a live volcano and operated by a consortium of ex-convicts freed on the condition that they keep the yard going.  But that’s another story altogether…)

Brickyards appeared in Virginia by 1612, and were soon found throughout the colonies.  Mid century laws regulated dimensions, molds, and (as in a June 10, 1679 order by the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony) that clay be dug no later than November 1 and turned over in February or March a month before production.  Large scove kilns could hold 200,000 bricks and take almost a month to fire.  By the 1850’s stoneware’s predominance combined with widespread building and land improvement projects led (forced) many redware potters into the brick, tile and drainpipe business.

But all that is economic necessity.  The love of brick developed later, so that by the mid 1980’s billboards throughout England proclaimed “Bricks make Britain beautiful.”  True enough.  (There was even a one hour TV special on this wonderful building material hosted by non other than Prince Charles.)

Anyway, back in Massachusetts, where did Robert E. Pray get the clay for his bricks?  The clay was obviously dug up right there in his Greenfield, MA brickyard yard from the 1840’s to 1960’s .  But the deposit for his bricks was laid down over 15,000 years ago.  During that time the area was under a gigantic Pleistocene lake.  This lake, which doesn’t exist anymore, is known today as Lake Hitchcock.

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.

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. 

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