Posts Tagged ‘Staffordshire Potteries’

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.

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.

Things You Can Do With A Horse

December 1, 2010

One of the pivotal breakthroughs for the Stoke-on-Trent potteries during the mid 18th century was the addition of calcined flint to their clay bodies.  The immediate effect was to whiten the clay.  But this small step opened up previously unimaginable vistas.

Potters began thinking ‘hey, we can do anything.’  And they meant, literally, anything.  They were no longer constrained by the materials at hand as they were.  Mind bending inventions tumbled one after another relating to how materials were processed, how the pottery was produced, and even how it was all moved around the country and the globe.

In just a few short decades, they went from digging clay in the back yard, plopping it on a home made wheel, burning it in a little kiln, and walking around the district peddling it, to setting up a factory for mass produced and machine lathed precise forms, creating an entire supply chain of raw materials to feed the beast, and an international network of sales outlets.

It might seem a stupid comparison, but it really wasn’t much different than the progress in computerized gadgetry since the 1990’s.  We’ve traveled pretty far since then.  And in the mid 1700’s the Staffordshire potters made a similar quantum leap.

So about that horse.  It could be just another apocryphal legend, but like they say in the world of journalism – it’s too good to check.

Staffordshire potter Robert Astbury (if you believe Josiah Wedgwood) or Joshua Heath (if you believe Simeon Shaw) was on his way to London when the horse he was riding developed a stye in its eye.  He stopped at a Dunstable inn (or maybe it was in Banbury) where the hosteller put some flint into a fire until it was red hot.  He then easily ground it into a fine powder and blew some into the horses eye.  The horse could see the road now.  But Astbury saw how white the flint became and how easily it was ground to a powder.  As soon as he returned home, he put some calcined flint into his clay body.  Whiteware, and all that followed, was born…

We get our inspiration from all over.

Staffordshire Pottery and Its History. Josiah Wedgwood.  McBride, Nast & Co/New York.  1913.

The Rise of the Staffordshire Potteries. John Thomas.  Augustus Kelly Publishers/New York.  1971.

A Nice Little Piece of Propaganda

November 7, 2010

The problem, as Josiah Wedgwood described it to his business partner Thomas Bentley in 1765, was this:

“This trade to our colonies we are apprehensive of losing in a few years, as they have set foot on some pottworks there already, and have at this time an agent amongst us hiring a number of our hands for establishing new a pottworks in South Carolina; having got one of our insolvent Master Potters there to conduct them.  They have every material there, equal if not superior to our own, for carrying on that manufacture; and as the necessaries of life, and consequently the price of labor amongst us are daily advancing, it is highly probable that more will follow them…”

Emigration was a thorn in the side of Wedgwood and the other English pottery moguls.  It was hard enough to keep local competitors at bay.  John Bartlem was lured away in 1765.  On October 4, 1770, Bartlem advertised in the South Carolina Gazette that he was about to open a “China manufactory and Pottery” near Charleston.  He urged other Staffordshire potters to join him.  Evidently some did.  The trickle to America eventually became a flood – due in large part to Wedgwood’s labor practices.  Something had to be done.  People had to know what they were really getting into.

So the response, as Wedgwood put it in his 1783 pamphlet entitled “To the Workmen in the Pottery on the subject of entering the service of Foreign Manufacturers,” was this:

“…This adventure being encouraged by the government of that province, the men, being puffed up with expectations of becoming gentlemen soon, wrote to their friends here what a fine way they were in and this encouraged others to follow them.  But change of climate and manner of living accompanied perhaps with a certain disorder of mind…carried them off so fast, that recruits could not be raised from England sufficient to supply the place of the dead men.”

In short, they “…fell sick as they came and all died quickly.”

The Rise of the Staffordshire Potteries. John Thomas.  Augustus Kelly Publishers/New York.  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.