Posts Tagged ‘Centenial Exhibition’

The Poor Potter, Third and Final Part.

October 11, 2009

All the poor potters in the early days of the United States struggled to help their country survive.  But Ben Franklin’s exhortations to produce much and admit little eventually backfired.  Ben’s son, the Royal Governor of New Jersey, sided with the Loyalists during the Revolution.  Charleston, MA, a long standing and major colonial pottery center, was burned to the ground during the British occupation.  Production there never recovered.  Worst of all, the notion of competing with work coming from England morphed into a curious form of self-depreciation.  If locally made fine quality items wanted to sell, they’d do best to not be signed.  That way, they could be passed off as imported.

This mind set developed at least partly because English imports skyrocketed once the Treaty of Paris established American independence in 1782.  Most of England’s manufacturing elites, potter Josiah Wedgwood foremost among them, favored the American cause.  An independent North America was a potentially huge market, free from tax laws regulating trade with colonies.  (And we did become Wedgwood’s largest customer.)  Just as America was beginning to create a national craft identity, England’s Industrial Revolution hit high gear.  We were swamped with foreign-made mass produced goods.

It took the better part of the 19th century for American artisans to move beyond that mountain of cheap stuff and the mental block that came with it.  The spark that got things rolling again was the Centennial Exhibition of 1876.  That watershed moment initiated the first serious reappraisal of the American crafts scene.

But that story is too good, so it’ll have to wait for another time…

Meanwhile, redware production had pretty much died out.  As William Ketchum, author of “American Pottery & Porcelain (Antique Hunter’s Guide),” sadly noted: “The potters have gone, but the clay is still there.”


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

Unearthing New England’s Past: The Ceramic Evidence.  Exhibition Catalogue. Museum of Our National Heritage/Lexington, MA.  1984.

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.

American Pottery & Porcelain (Antique Hunter’s Guide). William Ketchum.  Leventhal Publishers/New York.  2000.