Search This Blog

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!