Posts Tagged ‘War of 1812’

The Era of Good Feelings

March 10, 2013

Raise your hand if you can name all the presidents.  And if memorizing them made you sleep through every history class from then on? 

The uses to which we put history determines it’s shelf life.  This adage is blatantly visible in English transfer print export pottery to America (ie; show me the money).  Take the first five presidents: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe (of course).  Their shelf life varied.

Everybody loved George Washington (president from 1789-1797).  Shelves full of English export ware commemorated his administration.  Perhaps that’s to be expected of any revolution’s central “founding father.”

There is practically no English export ware commemorating John Adams (1797-1801).  Maybe Adams was just too dour for the English.  But he’d have to be pretty dour to trump the English  love of commerce.

Things got somewhat back to normal with Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809).  Even if many of his likenesses were really just “clip art” portraits with his name pasted under them.  No matter, as long as the name sold.

James Madison (1809-1817) held his own, though he declared a fairly pointless war against England in 1812.  But by then English pottery firms knew the extent of the American market and were prepared to go the distance in catering to popular demand.

Which brings us to James Monroe (1817-1825).  He too had his day.  But presidential portrait pottery had begun it’s decline.  Not so much because of the Monroe Doctrine, but because English firms were catching on to what American potters already knew.  Politics as decoration can be a hard sell.  Practically no American pottery company bothered with political imagery until the election of 1840.  Landscapes, flowers, and famous places were partisan neutral.

The irony is that Monroe’s Democratic-Republican party had wiped out the opposition Federalists.  George Washington’s original ideal of a ‘party-less’ government was within reach. 

The country was still wracked by economic crises, but the opposition party had imploded from it’s own colossal intransigence and a major war was over.  People called the time “The Era Of Good Feelings.”  Yes, people once actually spoke like that about American national politics.   

To those who warn that we risk repeating the past, I say “I wish.”

Readings:
American Patriotic and Political China.  Marian Klamkin.  Scribner’s and Sons/New York.  1973.

China-Trade Porcelain.  John Goldsmith Phillips.  Harvard University Press/Cambridge, MA.  1956.

 

For Those Who Hated Benjamin Franklin

March 13, 2011

Everybody loves Ben Franklin.  Big, sassy, jovial, quick witted.  In England, many loved and admired his inquisitive mind.  In France he was the friendly face of the American Revolution who, along with dour John Adams, convinced the French to join the cause.  Today, well, everybody just loves him.

English pottery firms scrambled to reclaim the American market after the War of 1812.  They favored American independence – as independent customers, not competitors.   And what better way to regain lost ground than by hyping all the wonderful things about the US on cheap transfer print whitewares?  Popular generals, victorious battles, famous places – it was all grist for the mill.  And of course, a sure fire top seller would be old Ben himself.  Because everybody loved Ben Franklin.

Small whiteware drinking cups and plates with Ben’s sayings plastered all over them were everywhere.  These items seem to have been intended primarily for children.  Much like the “collectible” Star Wars junk that appeared in fast food kids meals from the 1990’s onward.

These dishes sported such Franklinesque pearls as “If you would know the value of money try and borrow some,” “What maintains one vice brings up two children,” “Lost time is never found again,” and “It is easier to suppress the first desire than to gratify all that follow.”

A generation of children grew up staring down at these moralistic lectures.  Seeing them day in and day out must have been a visual equivalent to being told to eat your spinach.  Remember children, Ben knows best.  And besides, everybody loves Ben Franklin…

Readings:
American Patriotic and Political China.  Marian Klamkin.  Scribner’s and Sons/New York.  1973.

Luman Norton’s Barn

October 25, 2009

John Spargo was a big fan of the Nortons.  The Norton family of Bennington VT, was a powerhouse pottery dynasty from 1793 to almost to the end of the 19th century.  They initiated or excelled in virtually everything being made at the time; Redware (at first), Rockingham, Yellow ware, Sponge ware, Parian sculptures, Flint Enamel, Agate (“Scroddled”) ware, Granite ware, Porcelain, and of course, that quintessential American classic: salt-fired cobalt slipped stoneware crocks.  Begun at the foot of a mountain named after Susan B. Antony’s family,  the Nortons were one of a very few American pottery firms to successfully compete with the post-Revolutionary War British pottery invasion.  Bennington was even for a time called “The Staffordshire of America.”

Only the first few generations of Nortons were actual potters, though.  Captain John Norton, his son Luman, and Luman’s son Julius.  Most of the rest were content being local Brahmins, sitting atop the wealth created by their pottery making progenitors.  Except Edward, who tried to revive the then flagging pottery in the late 1880’s.  But he died young.  From then till today, the Norton name became affixed to their refractories and abrasives businesses.

Anyway, John Spargo was a Marxist agitator turned pottery collector (really).  He wrote several books early in the 20th century about American ceramics.  His “The Potters and Potteries of Bennington” is a landmark text.  It’s also a hagiography.  A paean to the Norton family.  The book is peppered with glowing accounts of the Nortons by their friends and neighbors.  The Nortons were gregarious, true enough.  They regularly strolled through the pottery, top hat in hand, chatting with the workers.

Luman, the second of the line, wasn’t as gifted as his father or his son.  But he put the Pottery on a solid footing.  So what a scandal when somebody burned down his barn in 1812!  Shortly after, someone tried to burn the rebuilt barn.  Luman posted night guards to protect it.  This was the very eve of the War of 1812.  A tense time.  Sitting under the stars, I wonder what the guards talked about.  Soon armies would rage across their countryside, possibly directly into their homes…

Luman Norton was, according to Spargo, well liked and well respected.  How ironic, then, that the arsonist wasn’t a British agent or an interloper from any number of rival potteries.  It was one of the trusted boys guarding his barn.

There must be a story here.

Norton Pottery workers

Norton Pottery workers

Readings:
The Potters and Potteries of Bennington.  John Spargo.  Cracker Barrel Press/Southampton, NY.  1926.

Early American Pottery and China.  John Spargo.  The Century Co./NY.  1926.

Early New England Potters and Their Wares.  Lura Woodside Watkins.  Harvard Univ Press/Cambridge MA.  1968.

The Jug and Related Stoneware of Bennington. Cornelius Osgood.  Charles Tuttle Co./Rutland, VT. 1971.

The Art of the Potter.  Diana and J. Garrison Stradling.  Main Street-Universe Books/New York.  1977.