Sunday, December 5, 2010

Eighteenth-Century Kiln Wadding


A box of kiln wadding. Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 
Next time you go to wad your pottery for a kiln firing, think of the William Rogers pottery factory in Yorktown, Virginia. William Rogers was the proprietor of the pottery, which operated from the 1720s until circa 1745. William Rogers is often referred to as the "Poor Potter" of Yorktown. This was due to a 1732 report written by Governor Gooch of Virginia which said "As to manufactures seet up, there is one poor Potters work for course earthen ware, which is of so little consequence, that I dare say there hath not been twenty shillings worth less of that comodity imported since it was sett up than there was before." This report was not exactly telling the truth, and in fact, William Rogers' production was quite lucrative, reportedly selling as far as New England (see the 2004 Ceramics In America publication for two good articles on Rogers). This site produced both earthenware and stoneware vessels. I had the pleasure last week of looking over the kiln furniture and some of the archaeological material from the stoneware kiln site. One of the most fascinating things to me was to handle the wadding and props from the kiln.
Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 
For those who do not crouch in, stand next to, or crawl around in kilns loading pots, wadding is a basic component which (in modern recipes) usually consists of kaolin, alumina hydrate, and sometimes grog, or heavy sand.

You can see the texture of the sand on this small piece of wadding. Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 
Historically, it would seem that many potters used their basic clay combined with grog. Wadding basically acts as a buffer between the pot which it is put underneath and the other vessels or kiln furniture. It basically keeps the pot from sticking to everything. Very handy in a salt-glaze kiln, which the William Rogers site was. And, historically, kiln shelves were generally not used, so pieces were often stacked one on top of the other. 
This is the base of a tankard. You can see the small orange-colored spots which are where the wadding was placed on the tankard before it was fired. Wadding typically leaves little marks like this. Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 


This is the interior floor of a saggar. You can see the orange-colored markings where there were vessels propped up. My estimation is that this saggar held mugs with three pieces of wadding on each mug. Count up the little marks and you can kind of guess where the mugs were sitting! Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 

Wadding usually has no particular shape, and is often just grabbed and made into whatever shape is necessary for the vessel, be it a small ball, a square pad, or a fistful. There were quite a few fistfulls in the collection, which was really fun to hold and see the fingerprints of the potters. 

A fistful of wadding with my fingers in the same place as the original potter. Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 
 There were some pieces of wadding which I thought may have been used in a particular way, and connected to some of the archaeological vessels I looked at. Take a look at this bottle, and notice the marks on the shoulder of the bottle where my fingers are.

Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 

Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 

Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 
There were likely wads or pads there, and this may have been the shape of the wadding:

Courtesy, National Park Service, Colonial National Historical Park, Yorktown Collection 
I say that because if you think about sitting something on the shoulder of the bottle, a triangular piece of wadding would work really well for support. I could be wrong here, I'll have to test my theory once I get a kiln built!
Happy wadding.


5 comments:

Dennis Allen said...

Thank you. Your posts are very informative.

Brenda Hornsby Heindl said...

Hi Dennis, thank you for your wonderful comment, it is greatly appreciated! I am glad I can find an interested audience for my ventures. I always love teaching and sharing research, it really excites me to no end!

Bridgette Booth said...

Thank you for an interesting post! Your photographs and details are very helpful for those of us who are interested, but not knowledgeable. :)

I've seen photographs of English bottle kilns. Would 18th century American potters have built similar structures?

Brenda Hornsby Heindl said...

Hi Bridgette, Thank you for your note. Thinking off of the top of my head, there are not many round stoneware kilns (especially with hovels) similar to the ones in England. The Yorktown kiln was rectangular. It depended a lot on where the potters came from or the influences they were drawing on. Red earthenware kilns that I have seen archaeological reports for were round though. I think it is interesting to think about the drafts used for certain clay bodies and glazes. I'll try and get some more kiln things up soon!

Bridgette Booth said...

Thanks for your thoughtful answer. I look forward to seeing more photos and reading about your work.