Posts Tagged ‘Westerwald stoneware’

The Hit Parade: The Beat Goes On

May 10, 2015

Central Mosque Djenne 1984 Once again, a big thanks to Rob Hunter and his inspired Ceramics in America 2014 ‘top ten’ issue. 

If my "Hit Parade" were to be about looks alone, I might have included the creative slip applications of English Mocha ware, or the bizarre, twisted explorations of George Orr, or the brilliant cobalt blues of German Westerwald salt-fired stoneware, or the wood-fired stoneware of Richard Bresnahan with whom I did my apprenticeship, etc, etc. etc.

But the genius of this exercise is to explore pottery’s intimate walk with humanity through the ages.  And it invites musing on one’s own relation to this incredible field as well.  Narrowing that down to ten entries is challenge enough!

For example, I could have easily included the Absalom Steadman stoneware jug c. 1823 which received the highest price paid at auction for early American pottery, thus illuminating the status of historic pottery in today’s art economy.  The 1840 William Henry Harrison transfer print pitcher by David Henderson speaks volumes about the part ceramics played in the development of our national politics.  The 11th century Central Mosque in D’jenne, Mali is the world’s largest adobe clay structure.  (But what’s that silly tourist doing there?)  Potters for Peace’s Filtron water purifier project highlights the enormous contributions of pottery to rural community development efforts.  The black pottery of Maria Martinez offers a classic example of pottery and cultural revitalization.  And the curious parallels between Richard Bresnahan’s unique wood firing process and astro-physics is fodder for an entire book in itself.

Every picture tells a story.  So does every pot.  The thing is, when it comes to pottery history’s ‘top 10,’ the story itself is quite often where it’s at.

And the beat goes on

World Class Connoisseurs of Salt-Fired German Stoneware

May 4, 2014

They say Germany’s two greatest contributions to Western Civilization were the Reformation and hops in beer.  And both happened at about the same time.

As condensed history, so it goes.  But hops also radically impacted pottery history.  Everybody wanted beer once early 16th century brewers, village housewives mostly, began producing it.  Kids even got their diluted “little beer” for breakfast.  And the best beer containers, before mass produced glass, were stoneware bottles.  Demand skyrocketed.  Germans had been tinkering with stoneware since the 10th century.  But 16th to 18th century salt-fired German stoneware became world renowned because of beer.

Unfortunately Germany’s Rhineland district, where the best work was made, was a playground of war for centuries.  Whole communities were continually uprooted by chronic warfare.  Rhennish potters from Raeren, Freshcen and Siegburg ultimately ended up in the somewhat calmer Westerwald region.

Along the way they picked up improvements in clays, sprig decorations, and brilliant manganese and cobalt highlights.  Their work spawned off-shoots, reproductions, fakes and revivals long after their dominance had passed.

German stoneware was so popular, English potters couldn’t prevent caveats from diluting their July 22, 1672 Parliamentary Order in Council meant to insulate local markets.  The final bill prohibited imports of “any kind or sort of Painted Earthen Wares whatsoever except those of China, and Stone bottles and Juggs.”

Tons of German stoneware, literally, were shipped to England’s North American colonies during the 18th century.  Ironically beer bottles and beer mugs, “krugen” and “cannen,” were not the top imports.  Chamber pots were.  But drinking vessels were close behind.  And they were scattered almost as far.

Colonists weren’t the only admirers of salt-fired German stoneware, however.  Many Native American burial sites included Westerwald jugs.  When pottery is done well, there are no boundaries to how far it will be collected.


Stoneware in America.  Robert Hunter, ed.

Stoneware: White Salt-Glazed, Rhenish and Dry Body.  Gérard Gusset.  National Historic Parks and Sites Branch, Parks Canada, Environment Canada/Ministry of the Environment, Ottawa, Canada.  1980.



February 13, 2011

The Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I is considered one of the main causes of World War II.  Nazi leaders used the economic and political stress imposed on Germany to push their twisted program to it’s disastrous conclusion.  But harsh terms have been exacted from the vanquished throughout history, leading to the observation that wars are never won or lost.  They just continue.

The victors write history, but the vanquished remember it…

Anyway, up until the mid 19th century in northeastern Congo and southern Sudan, another form of tribute was exacted.  Vassals were required to give pottery to their overlords in Azande and Mangbetu controlled territories.  This “tribute pottery” was a unique class of unusual, individualized earthenware bottle forms.  These bottles weren’t made for any other purpose.  And their makers generally specialized in crafts other than pottery.

Azande rulers in particular didn’t collect this tribute to hoard away or show off.  They used tribute pottery as gifts to members of their court, neighboring chiefs, and visiting dignitaries such as European explorers, missionaries and medical personnel.

By the 1920’s European colonial rule replaced Azande political power.  Pottery as tribute ended.  But the allure of what was formally a uniquely prestigious possession kept production of these forms alive.  The expressive qualities of tribute pottery allowed potters to explore whole new ways of creating forms beyond the traditional categories that previously defined their work.

It would seem that tribute pottery was a gift that kept on giving.

Just imagine the world we would be living in if, instead of billions of dollars worth of unpayable reparations and huge chunks of territory, France and England demanded shipments of Meissen porcelain and Westerwald stoneware in 1919.

First Art: Historic African Ceramics. Douglas Dawson.    C & C Printing/Hong Kong.  2009.

A World at Arms.  A Global History of World War II. Gerhard Weinberg.  Cambridge University Press/Cambridge, England.  1994.