Posts Tagged ‘Slipware’

A Jersey Outset

April 7, 2013

Why did men used to need a dowry bribe to marry?  Fortunately, these enlightened days offer men an alternative prenuptial pageant.  And women get bridal showers, so goods are still exchanged.

In the early 19th century a working class bride might instead expect to receive an “outset,” a collection of useful items given by her parents on occasion of her marriage.  People needed many things to start up a household.  Silverware.  Bedding.  Furniture.  And pottery.  Especially inexpensive redware slip trailed with moralistic adages.

Chamber pots were a common gift.  Various kinds of dishes were another.  These were occasions when the parent (or the potter) could have some fun.  “When this you see remember me…”  Or offer words of advice.  “Give drink to the thirsty.”  Or instruct in proper living.  “Visit the sick.”  Sgraffito potters also got in on the act with whole sentences scrawled around plate rims.  “Eating is for existence and life, drinking is also good besides.”  Words to live by.

But one wonders at some sayings trailed onto outset gift plates.  Take, for example, the bacon plate shown below.  “Hard times in Jersey.”  The two most likely makers of this plate were either Henry Van Saun who ran a “Pottery Bake Shoppe” near New Milford, NJ from 1811 to 1829, or George Wolfkiel who bought the old Van Saun shop in 1847 and ran it until 1867.  Wolfkiel is believed to have made a set of dishes for the wedding of a certain Mrs. Zabriskie in nearby Ramsey.  It’s possible that this plate was part of her outset.

You can see this bacon plate today at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford CT.  But what was the message to young Mrs. Zabriskie on the occasion?  Good luck?  Oh well?  Told you so?

Hard times in Jersey

Readings:
The Reshaping of Everyday Life.  John Worrel.  Harper Perennial/New York.  1989.

Kitchen Ceramics.  Selsin, Rozensztroch, and Cliff.  Abbeville Press/New York.  1997.

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.

 

Communist Vagabond Troublemakers

November 12, 2012

Swashbuckling tales replete with sword play and intrigue are sure-fire crowd pleasers.  But most pottery histories avoid that sort of thing.  Well…

First, the sword play.  Turn-of-the-19th-century Moravian potters of Salem NC employed colorful slipware patterns and playful forms quite in contrast to their strict religious estheticism.  Accounts of Salem market days tell of unruly mobs lunging for anything they could grab from the Moravians’ stalls.  At times the local militia had to come out – swords drawn – to keep the peace.  Moravian pottery was that good.

It all began (more or less) back in 1530.  Catholic zealots chased Protestant artisans out of Faenza Italy.  These artisans ended up in Moravia, southern Germany.  By century’s end they had either split into several groups or their pottery skills spread to other radical communist anabaptist protestant sects also sheltering in Moravia.  These migrant artisan groups, collectively known as “Habaners,” believed in strict  religious communal living and shared property ownership.

But the birth of European Capitalism was a messy thing.  The powers that be reacted savagely to religious deviants and peasant protests.  Trouble hounded the Habaners causing them to fan out across Franconia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Austria, Hungary,  Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and elsewhere.  Some such groups abandoned Europe altogether in favor of North Carolina (the “Moravians”) and elsewhere in America.

Haban pottery was originally limited to a narrow range of shapes, shunning superfluous and “unseemly” decoration.  But income from pottery sales outside the community proved too lucrative.  The bare Haban aesthetic adapted to the temperament of local cultures as the Habaners were buffeted about.  This interplay resulted in colorful slipware for the masses and majolica for the wealthy.   Haban majolica eventually became synonymous with Central European folk pottery between the 17th – 19th centuries.

The austere American Moravians similarly adapted to local raw materials and markets.  Thus the creative slipware defended by militia swords.

Depth of experience and motivation can sometimes be hard to discern in pottery as well as in people.  That’s something to keep in mind when looking at flowery painted pottery from long ago.

Readings:
Ceramics in America.  Robert Hunter, Ed.  University Press of New England/Lebanon, NH.  2009.

Ceramics in America.  Robert Hunter, Ed.  University Press of New England/Lebanon, NH.  2010.

The Concise Encyclopedia of Continental Pottery and Porcelain.  Reginald Haggar.   Hawthorn Books/New York.  1960.

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.

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.