Posts Tagged ‘William Henry Harrison’

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

1840

September 12, 2010

Years ago I would have yawned at the pitcher shown here. 11″ tall,  slip-cast, transfer print yellow ware, made by David Henderson’s American Pottery Company in Jersey City, NJ, 1840.  A crass, stuffy, Victorian frivolity.  Now it stops me in my tracks… Harrison Transfer Print Pitcher

One reason; it’s a technical tour-de-force.  This pitcher was essentially made out of scratch.  With a few notable but limited exceptions, we had no ceramic supply companies in 1840.  Henderson and his contemporaries were tenacious geniuses.

Liverpool had previously flooded the US with similar wares.  Many here tried to duplicate them.  Henderson, himself a cast-off of the English pottery world, claimed first success – initiating America’s mass-produced pottery era.  Others contested his claims.  But they were all operating at roughly the same time; they were all on the cutting edge of what was possible in American ceramics in the early decades of the 19th century.

Another reason for my reaction; the pitcher’s iconography.  The imagery relates to William Henry Harrison’s 1840 presidential bid.  A log cabin, a slogan “The Ohio Farmer,” Harrison, and an eagle.

Previous candidates lobbied party bosses in smoke filled rooms, public speeches being uncouth.  Harrison didn’t just “speechify.”  He hurdled insults at incumbent Martin Van Buren (“Marty Van Ruin”).  He re-invented his own background (“born in a log cabin”).  He coined slogans (“The Ohio Farmer”).  He milked alliances with big business (whiskey magnate E.C. Booze bankrolled his campaign and popularized a drinking term).  He pioneered the “whistle stop” train tour and plastered his face on newly available locally made transfer print ware.

Harrison won, then died of pneumonia a month after giving his inaugural speech in a blizzard.  The blue-blood Harrison probably never saw the inside of a log cabin.  He was an “Ohio Farmer” with thousands of acres, all managed by underlings.  In short, he was a multi millionaire posing as a good ol’ boy you’d want to have a hard cider with and vote for (they don’t all come from Texas).  Boisterous public self promotion, total self re-imaging, slander, spin, collusion – the inception of the modern presidential campaign.

Is there redemption in this story?  The Abolitionists noted Harrison’s success.  Soon they would flood the marketplace with ceramic nick-nacks decrying the evils of slavery.  And there at the beginning was our little pitcher…

…A Victorian frivolity?  More like a 500 pound gorilla.

Readings:
Ceramics in America, 2002. Robert Hunter, Ed.  Chipstone Press/Hanover and London.  2002.

Anglo-American Ceramics, Part 1 Transfer Printed Creamware and Pearlware for the American Market, 1760-1860. Arman, David and Linda.  Oakland Press/Portsmouth, RI.(1998)

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