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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Early New England Potters and Their Wares

My lecture on Early New England Potters and their pottery was presented at the Harwinton Library on November 18, 2009.  I had created a map of all the potters in New England from 1627 to 1900.  There were three groups of the earliest settlers on our Northeastern shores. One was a group of German Immigrants landing in Philadelphia and spreading across Pennsylvania. Another was the Dutch landing in New Amsterdam and spreading into New Jersey and up the Hudson. The other group was the English landing near what is now Boston. 
The colonies of New England in the 1600s included Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Haven, Plymouth and Massachusetts. New Hampshire and Maine were part of Massachusetts and Vermont was held by New York till 1777. So New York was not considered part of New England even though the borders shifted over the following years.

The first mention of a potter in Salem, Massachusetts in 1629. Rev Higginson wrote in a letter:

“It is thought here is good clay to make bricke, and Tyles and Earthen pots, as need be. At this instant, we are setting a brick-kill on worke to make Brickes and Tyles for the building of our houses.”

Potters were not usually listed as occupations on early census. They usually had other employment, ferrymen, inn keepers or farmers. They passed down their skills to sons, nephews, cousins, brothers and occasionally a wife or daughter. They may have taken on an apprentice who started as a child and did the hard work for five to seven years.  Many of the relatives and apprentices moved to other areas to start their own pottery.

Small red ware potteries florished, over 400 potters turned the humble clay into serviceable objects.

One of the local potters in the Northwest corner of CT was  Hervey Brooks. Hervey is famous because he kept excellent records. He was a potter in Goshen in the early 1800s and wrote in his journals what pots he made, where he sold them, bricks, trades, working at other jobs and how much supplies cost and sold for. His building was moved to Sturbridge Village in MA. A reconstructed kiln and excellent staff teach people about the potters simple life two hundred years ago.
Hervey was somehow influenced by the Germans in decorating with sliptrailing. Most red ware potters here just used black, green or clear glazes.

In doing the research for this lecture, I came across several receipts for flowerpots my family had purchased in the late 1800s for their florist business in Brooklyn NY.  The industrial revolution had a big influence on the small town potteries. With the use of jiggers and jollys, the factories could turn out thousands of identical pots in half the time it would have taken Hervey to throw one.

I have very few original red ware pieces. The above plate by Hervey is privately owned. The shard next to it was given to me by a good friend and it is hard to tell if this is Herveys or one of his predicessors, John Pierce, Jonathon Kettle, John Norton or Jesse Wadhams.

The 3" flower pot to the right was found in my grampas greenhouse. I wonder if it was made by the Hews Company over 100 years ago. The pottery made by two hands squeezing clay as it spins on a wooden wheel like this little flower pot with its lumps and flaws is somehow more appealing than factory made pots of the industrial age.

This is the reason some of us still make things slowly, contemplatively with our hands... it is in the making and the imperfections our hands create that shows a bit of ourselves.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My newest side-line product. A Christmas seed packet. I was answering phones at the plant company in my little cubicle when someone called to ask if we sell seeds. The woman wanted some special seeds to put into her husbands Christmas stocking.

Bing! Another great idea. This is a watercolor of my grandaughter, Isobel. The seeds are Scarlet Runner Beans. I printed them up at Staples and packaged up the beans for Christmas gifts to family and friends. I fell in love with Scarlet Runner Beans years ago. They grow 6-10 feet tall up trellises or houses or telephone poles. They have abundant bright red flowers. The flowers are edible in salads. The long string beans taste great and you can let them go to seed and make a nice chili next winter! What a beautiful and versatile plant.

How does this connect with pottery? My grampa was a florist and left me a house, barn and greenhouse parts. This may be the year I finally put up a makeshift greenhouse from the old redwood window panes he left behind to add to the ambiance in my yard. And, working at a plant company, I have access to some wonderful plants. This coming May, I will have my first May Day... Pottery with Plants Sale. I am designing some new pots for tulip, hyacinths and daffodil bulbs that can be grown on your back deck or porch. Buy a pot and get a free plant! Pottery and Plants are an obvious combination. And, you will be able to buy the new packets of Spring Magic Beans!

Happy New Year to you all!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Martha Stewarts Yellow Ware... the story of plates

Martha Stewart collects old yellow ware, along with lots of other folks. I think many collectors use the low pie plates for their place settings. Although yellow ware has been produced since the 1600s, dinnerware plates and sets made from these yellow clays where not generally made until the mid 1800s when they were mass produced with the use of a "Jigger". Jiggering is a method of making pottery by pressing a ball of clay into a plaster form on a potters wheel. This doesn't take much skill and was a form of mass producing pottery. Plates made by jiggering were made with flat rims like the plates you buy everywhere today. However, the flat rims tend to warp and fall while being fired in the kiln. Large potteries used rolls of clay between plates to support the rims during firing.

Before the large factories took over the small potteries in the 1800s, plates were not made by small potteries because of the warping and complications in firing.

My plates have slightly raised and rounded rims, with a rolled edge. This keeps them from warping and mades them a little more durable. Hand thrown pottery plates are a little heavier than the pressed plates but they have their own charm. Visit my web site for more information on dinner ware.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Goshen Center School

Working with the great kids at Goshen School this week. Our pottery class is making Christmas jars and ornaments for their trees. Kids have great imaginations and like to play in the clay!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Flames from The Sawdust

My first sawdust firing was a grand success!
I fired the pots yesterday. Being October, I was waiting for a day I had time to do this and dry enough. I started a fire in my grill the day before to heat up the wet bricks and had the fire blazing all day. The pots are made of local Red Clay. I had made some of them on my treadle wheel and some of them by coil. Most decorated with shells. They were plenty dry, but I placed them on the grill over new hot coals the next morning to heat them up and remove moisture. My bricks I had mortered with my stoneware clay earlier this summer and they have dried and heated up over the summer BBQ's to set the clay pretty well. I wanted the mortar to be temporary. I can easily knock these apart to make a new kiln or use them for something else.

When the coals yesterday were down to a small glowing log, I raked it around and set 3 inches of very dry sawdust on the bottom. I then carefully placed the pots about 2" apart, bigger ones on the bottom filled with sawdust and small pots or whimseys. 3 more inches of sawdust on top and then another layer of smaller pots. I kept them about 3 inches from the walls with 4 inches of sawdust on the very top, a layer of crumpled newspaper and my burning piece of log. Soon the paper caught on fire and the sawdust began to burn and smoke. I placed a tin lid on the top and left it to smolder.

16 hours later, the next morning at 8:00, the sawdust had burned down with only a dotting of hot sawdust embers and the pots were cool enough to handle. And here are the results.

The pots are still fragile. The smoke and carbon have turned most of them black, but the effect is quite pleasing. And they are hard.

The last photo has a spash of yellow. This is where I actually put a diagonal band of yellow vanadium slip. Most of any colors I applies has disapeared or turned black.
Now I have to wait till spring for another attempt... glazing in saggers perhaps?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

So Many Photos And So Little Space! For more photos of this years Big E go to my Flickr page...
Little Isobel came along this year in her new dress I made (while at the fair). It's always nice to see my old friends, many who I only see once a year, both at the Village and the visitors.

Met many new, interesting folks this year. The kids had a great time making marbles. Marbles are so simple... easy to make with many games to make up... but they are also a history lesson too. Clay marbles have been made everywhere and from long, long ago. They are decorated with colored clays, fired and then make durable toys. Of course many have been lost during play and the old ones still turn up in peoples homes and yards.

This year, a source of fun and interest for our reenactor group was a box of buttons brought in by Guy. Yes, we had a great time sorting our hundreds of brass, bone, shell buttons, along with many other little oddities; hindges, pins, toys, clips, needles. Many were very old. Some of the buttons were very interesting. Not much source of fun for everyone, but for those of us interested in history, this little box brought on many a conversation about the old days. I made an impression of some of the buttons in a clay bat and will be used as stamps in my pottery in the future.

Now back at home, I am battening down the hatches for the upcoming snow and ice. Closing off the "Cellar Pottery Cave", getting out the quilts, cleaning out the pellet stove and buying some new thermals! Its going to be 30 degrees tomorrow morning!

I made over 700 mini pots at this fair alone. Now I have to sort, fire and glaze them all... with tweezers! Started potting in the "Cellar Pottery Cave" yesterday. I am working in the cellar of my old house this winter. Half the floor is still dirt. With the dirt and hugh stone walls it is like working in a cave.

Pottery classes start next week at Goshen Center School. We do an afterschool pottery project for one week each month. We have a great time and kids come up with some wonderful pottery. You can see some on my web site...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Goshen Fair 2009

Another great year at the Goshen Fair, Goshen, CT. The weather was perfect.
I get to work in the lean-to addition in the front.

Goshen Fair is a small, but fun-filled fair up the the Northwest Corner of CT. One of the earliest New England potters, Hervey Brooks, lived right down the road, along with Jesse Wadhams and Jonathan Kettell, made functional redware pottery from the clay in Goshen in the late 1700s till the mid 1800s.
Herveys' pottery barn has been moved to Sturbridge village in MA.

So I feel right at home here in this simple country town and among woodcutters, ax-throwers, tractors, barnyard, farmers and stitchers displaying their skills and their wares.

See you next year in Goshen!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Another year at Erie County Fair

Another great time demonstrating at the Erie County Fair in NYS.

This year, I brought along some new Slip trays, Face Jugs, Wall Pockets, Butter Jars and of course lots of Miniatures!

The Miniatures sold like hot cakes! It is so much fun to make them on my old treadle wheel. I made red clay Minis and miniature Scraffito Plates, Stoneware Whistle Jugs and Tiny Butter Churns. The smallest Jug I made was 1/2" tall, and yes, it was hollow. People ask me what are these Minis for, and I say.. "Nothing!" "Just for Fun!" I made over 400 Miniatures at the fair this year. I can box them up when dry and at $3 each, will easily sell them at my next fair... which is the Goshen Fair in CT. (My local fair is small but it is the "Fair above all others" for us. Labor Day Weekend. )

....................This year, I had Austin back to help out. His dad is the demonstrating Blacksmith and last year, Austin made a nice tile. Often, I ask kids to help me out, and Nathan put a face on a little jug for me. He and my other little helpers got to take their pots home. Sometimes, kids and I do a marble swap. I bring some wonderfully colorful and smoothly burnished Old-Tyme Clay Marbles along, fired and ready to use. The kids make me a marble out of fresh clay trying to make them perfectly round and then we swap for a finished one. Clay marbles are dried and then rolled around in a metal bowl with a mix of water and colored oxides. As they rub against the bowl and each other, they acquire a nice patina that is enhanced when fired.

Along with meeting some really great people, other crafters, locals, visitors and staff, I reconnected again with Athena and Pete who let me hold Butchy the snake. Butchy is a 7' phython and very friendly. Here is Roger the Bowlmaker, a giant broom specially made by Little John and me with Butchy. You can find more information about John and Roger at my web site on the "Reenactors I know" page.

Athena and Pete are the owners of Butchy the snake and the other larger snakes they bring for people to marvel over.

For more photos of the people and attractions at the Erie County Fair, check out this link:

Paulette and Barry are fairgoers that live "off the grid". I had a great time visiting with them everyday and learning of their solor and heating meathods. The sweetest couple in the world have been married 34 years!
I miss all of these friends and wish them a year of happiness and success till I see them again next year!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Summer is here and I will spend the month of July at home making lots of pottery for upcoming fall exhibitions. And teaching kids pottery, Tuesday nite Handbuilders club and my occassional Potters Wheel student.

Its a busy month, but I hope to spend some time enjoying my yard. The garden has been visited by a lovely elegant Doe. She ate the tops off 4 of my 8 sunflowers. I now have dog hair decorating the surviving sunflowers and most of my bean and pea plants. Sigh. If she wasn't so elegant and beautiful, I would call my brother, the hunter over. But no, I will just try to get her to move on.

I have some new clients for my pottery. White Memorial Foundation in Litchfield will now be offering some face jug birdhouses, garden sculptures and other decorative and usefull pottery pieces.

Stop by to see a wide variety of new pottery and tour the 200 year old pottery barn...or sign up to take a class. Click on my web site to see more about the pottery and classes...

Monday, June 22, 2009

Old Deerfield Village 2009

Old Deerfield Village's craft fair was not very well attended this year. The forcast predicted heavy rain, but as usual, the forcast was wrong. The sun came out between patches of clouds, and the light misting was a relieft to the heat.

Sold out all of my new little red birds. They look great in your garden or house plants and people also bought them for flower arrangements. Their bright red color attracted many customers.

Lots of mini pots were made and sold too. It was a good weekend for me with sales. I saw many old customers and crafters to catch up with. Talked to some other potters about our craft and ate lots of blueberry perogies.

Home again for the month of July to make some stock and teach children pottery making. And, I hope to finally get my greenhouse up.

My new Face Jug Birdhouses were a big hit also... adds a little fun to your yard and attracts the birds too!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Treadling at Mercer

Reggie the potter, daughter Erin and granddaughter Isobel, the youngest apprentice at 17 months old, working on the old wooden treadle wheel at Mercer Museums Folk Fest in Dolyestown PA.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mercer Museum 2009

Another great year at the Mercer Museum in Pennsylvania. This is a wonderful place to hang out for a weekend. The crafters are experts in their fields, fashioning with enthusiam furniture, baskets, pottery, weavings, soap, paintings, so much more and even home brewed beer over a wood fire.

The lifestyle of the traditional craftsmen are in a world of their own. They have studied and practiced their craft. They have sought the simpler way of making useful and decorative crafts.

People have told me I can get a motor for my potters wheel instead of the slow steady kick of my wooden treadle, but that would defeat the purpose. The idea of starting a craft from scratch, a piece of wood, a ball of clay, a hank of wool... and slowly and meditatively turning those raw materials into a work of art; semetrical, smooth flowing lines, perfect balance... is not something to be rushed, but worked on subconsiously, meditatively, slowly. The craftsmens hands caress their work and instill a bit of themselves into it.

And the end product reflects the craftsmens lifestyle, practice, patience and skill.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Campfire Cookery

I have moved on to experimenting with campfire cooking.

These are my pottery crocks for cooking on campfires. My first attempt, was to throw some greased pottatoes in the crock on the left and stick it near the coals. It took about 40 minutes and they were soft and great!

My second attempt was not so good. They must have been too far from the coals and after 2 hours, yes they were soft.

Tonight I mix together 2 eggs, 2 cups of milk, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 4 tablespoons of butter in the crock. Then I crumbled a dry loaf of french bread crumbled into chunks. A handful of raisons and half an apple then went into the mix. 1 hour near the coals and it was perfect.

In the other crock, I placed 1 inch cubes of potatoes, carrots, pork, shredded cabbage, garlic, onion and salt and pepper. I stuffed it in and filled the crock with beer. This mix took about 1 and 1/2 hours to soften the potatoes.

The crocks held up well, no cracks even when the flames got 2 " to the crocks. I wouldn't suggest the flames get any closer, and most of my logs were coals when I put the cold crocks in. The lids kept the steam in and both turned out quite tasty.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Spring Again!

After a cold winter, working in my Cellar Cave under my house, I am ready to move back into my Barn Workshop!

I have spread wood chips on my parking lot, they were free thanks to my son-in-law. Hopefully they will keep down the mud... we'll see how they work out.

Some new things I am working on are the marbled tiles and small trays. I was inspired by a friend, John Bielik ( who does beautiful marbled paper. (You can see him and his work on my web site:

Colored clay slips are placed on red clay tile and shaped into fields and flowers with the use of a pin. Also, I am working on a line of new Bird Houses. My face jugs were so popular last year, I decided to make some with a useful purpose and to help out the birds.

Happy Spring!