Posts Tagged ‘Art Pottery’

…100 Years from Now

October 10, 2010

Eras usually end because nobody cares.  The latest “thing” gets all the attention.  For example, when American hand-made utilitarian pottery died out in the mid 19th century, nobody ran into the street gnashing teeth and pulling hair.

Only with the passage of time can we really understand what happened, our self-absorbed modern penchant for naming current “eras” notwithstanding (ie; The Information Age, The Digital Age, Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z, etc. etc. etc.). Who really understands what is happening today?  What will they say of us 100 years from now? Am1876UniStaCen-52009-O-6

But in 1876 something amazing happened.  We looked back.  We  realized the value of something we once had.  And we acted on that realization.

The catalyst was the first World’s Fair to be held in the US, the “International Exposition of 1876” commonly known as the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.  The Civil War was over.  People wanted to move on, to show the world our best.  And we invited the world to stand beside us, show us their best.  The result?  America flopped.

We had lost sight of our heritage.  Our past.  Gone were the uniquely American cobalt slipped stoneware crocks.  Gone were the playful sgraffito worksRedware was a memory.  The daring porcelains, rockinghams, agates, and parians of our pioneering pottery firms had morphed into a soul-less, mass-produced product.

American artisans flocking to the Exhibition saw in the international exhibits a world that knew where it was coming from and where it wanted to go.  Our exhibits confronted our artisans with questions.  “What had we become?”  “What could we become?”  They came away changed.

This was no bunch of hippie luddites.  They were men and women inspired to preserve the past but also to advance American ceramics.  American women were especially motivated by this watershed event.  For many it began with china painting, the first true ‘ceramic-art’ movement in the US.  Two presidential wives and many future leaders in the movement began as china painters.  But any list of Art Pottery leaders must begin with Mary Louise McLaughlin and Maria Longworth Nichols.

Mary Louise McLaughlin’s Centennial experience motivated her to spearhead in 1879 the Queen City OH Pottery Club, America’s first all-women’s pottery organization.  Her efforts set the stage for Rookwood and the blossoming of Art Pottery in Cincinnati.  Rookwood Pottery was founded in 1880 by Maria Longworth Nichols, another Centennial convert.  No other pottery matched Rookwood’s uniquely American style.

But there were many others; Newcomb Pottery in New Orleans founded specifically to instruct young women; Mary Chase Stratton’s Pewabic Pottery in Detroit; Linna Irelan’s Art Pottery in San Francisco, CA, which exclusively used native Californian clays.  These and many more set the stage for Adelaide Alsop Robineau’s porcelain work beginning in 1904 and culminating in her magisterial Scarab Vase.  The stage was set for America’s Arts and Crafts revolution.

As Edwin Atlee Barber said: “The existence of a true ceramic art in this country may be said to have commenced with the Fair of 1876.”  Sometimes its nice to recognize on whose shoulders we stand.

Readings:
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.

The Index of American Design. Erwin O. Christensen.  The Macmillan Company/New York.  1950.

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.