Monday, June 30, 2014

Traveling Potter Part I

I've been horrible to leave you all in the dark for the last month. Needless to say, there's been a lot going on and I will try to catch you up this week. For the past 5 days I have been in New England traveling first to Upstate New York for Don Carpentier's Eastfield Village ceramic workshop (which we fondly call "Dish Camp"). Last night I arrive in Deerfield, Massachusetts and had the opportunity today to work with the students in their Summer Fellowship Program. Slowly, I have been working to try and reach out to programs and conferences for doing workshops to talk about historic pottery, demonstrate pottery making, and particularly talk about kiln furniture and historic kilns. It is really fun to start to see things coming into fruition.
Talking about kiln furniture

I first did a presentation for the students about my background, my work in museums, and my hands-on experience and approach to material culture as a potter. Then we went into a workshop space where I talked about kiln furniture, showed various pieces from my collection, and talked about how to recognize how pots were fired by marks on their surface.
Stacking pots with kiln furniture

I then did a little demonstration with stacking pots in order to show the function of kiln furniture and how the various shapes interact with one another and the vessels.
After showing the students the basics of handles and throwing a vessel on the wheel, I got them on the wheel and making handles. Prior to coming, I made mug blanks in order for them to gain experience with pulling a handle from the side of the mug.

Particularly for students studying objects in museums, I think learning the various aspects of pottery production is important. Even understanding the basics can change your approach and understanding of an object.

 Above are their final products from the afternoon, a bowl-like form, and a handled mug! And for kicks, here is my face after my attempt to join two sections resulted in the base being too wet and collapsing:
More to come, stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

On the Farm- Stoneware Sherd!

What could be more exciting than receiving a text from the farmer telling me that he found the neck and handle section of a jug while planting sweet potatoes?! Above is the marred remains of said jug section, but boy, was I excited! Do you see what I see?
Unglazed interior of the jug

First, we'll get out of the way that it is stoneware. It is also salt-glazed. The interior is not glazed which generally tells me that it pre-dates 1850, since that is when it starts to become more common to see pots glazed on the interior.
Marbling in the broken section showing the possibility of rolled clay
The handle is particularly awesome for many reasons. One, is that the end of the handle where it broke has this beautiful marbled texture that almost looks like the wedge of clay was rolled before being attached to the bottle and pulled for a handle. Does that make sense? The potter took a hunk of clay, rolled it into a fat snake-shape, then attached it to the neck of the jug, and pulled the shape of the handle. I don't know that this is for sure how it happened, but it makes sense to me and visually seems to match my theory.
The handle is also quite thick, roughly 1 1/4- 1 1/2 inches across at the top, which makes me wonder how large the jug was that needed such a thick handle!
Can you spot the cobalt blob at the upper part of the handle?

Cobalt blob circled

Another reason is that it has a blob of cobalt on the upper part of the handle where it joins the vessel. This tells me that it is probably not English, as I don't know that I have seen an English jug with a blob of cobalt at the handle juncture.

And then we come to perhaps the most tantalizing part of this piece- the evidence of kiln furniture! Can you make out the subtle chance in surface color and texture to the right of the handle remain in the photo above?

That subtle change in surface color and texture tells me that it is a touch mark, most likely where a piece of kiln furniture touched the top of the handle. Not just any piece of kiln furniture, mind you, but a bar!
Combined with the very dry surface of the rim, the touch mark and dry rim tell me that a bar was used to stack this jug in the kiln when it was fired. Check out a blog post I did a few years ago on this topic to get an idea of what the kiln furniture looked like. I'm not coming to the conclusion that this piece was made in Fayetteville (per the linked blog post), but I don't recall seeing stacked jugs like this much in Virginia (off the top of my head, maybe in Alexandria), and am not sure about Tennessee. The neck doesn't match the pieces from Fayetteville, either, so we'll toss that thought until we (hopefully) find more pieces!

We had a great turn out for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association's Triad Farm Tour last Saturday and Sunday. This coming Sunday is our own farm open house and pottery sale. Lots of new pots, seconds, and older pieces at deep discounts!

Monday, June 2, 2014

On the Farm- Events and Barn Update

Barn at sunset with wheat in the foreground
Yesterday, with the help of some generous friends who donated their time and strength, we put the walls up on the second floor of the barn. Barn building and farm projects have absorbed most of my time and energy lately and have kept me out of the studio. Bear with me while I pause on the 52 Form Project and work toward getting back in the swing of things!

Raising a wall requires a lot of hands to put the walls together, stand them up, and then hold them in place while they are stabilized and nailed in. It's a bit risky and tricky, especially on the second floor being so high up!

We're trying to get things ready for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association Triad Farm Tour that takes place this coming weekend. There will be about 17 farms on the tour, giving people the chance to caravan with others and go from farm to farm, learn about a lot of different farming practices, see different kinds of plants and animals, and maybe taste some fresh veggies and other food!
Our own farm open house and pottery sale is coming up the weekend after, on Sunday the 15th.
My brother decided that our barn currently looks more like a Super Mario Brothers castle than a barn, so in his honor, I leave you with the ever-unforgettable tune of the Super Mario Brothers (if you get through 34 seconds, you'll see a castle):

Memorial Day Pottery Reflection

Christopher Haun Goes to the Gallows
This is a bit delayed, but  lately, a lot of things seem to be taking much more time than hoped for! Last week, while working on the farm on Monday, I was reflecting on Memorial Day and the concept of honoring those who have served in the military, given the ultimate sacrifice and not returned. A thought crept into my mind, that crafts people have served in various wars and some have not returned. How did that impact the field of craft that those people worked in? What would their work have been like if they had survived?

Isaac Lefevers Jar, Antique Bottles
Everyone fantasizes about one thing or another from time to time. One of my fantasies is to think about what may have been if particular potters had not been lost to war. The above jar was made by Isaac Lefevers, who was born in 1831 and lived in Vale in Lincoln County, NC. He served in the Civil War and died in 1864 after a battle near White Oak Swamp in Virginia.
Possible Clemer jar, Brunk Auctions

The above jar here was likely made by Jeremiah Clemer who died in 1862 in a Richmond hospital following the battle of Seven Pines, during the Civil War. Clemer was also from Lincoln County in North Carolina. Two early alkaline glaze stoneware potters making beautiful, ovoid jars and utilitarian pieces. I love the early graceful jars from this area of North Carolina. Both potters had strong skills and I cannot imagine what their production would have been like if they returned and continued the work they began.
Swank jar, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Crocker Farm

James H. Hamilton from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and James Donley from West Chester, Pennsylvania, were both were lost in the Civil War. I've not been able to find any pieces associated with their work, but the above jar was made in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in 1857 and by a potter who took over the pottery James H. Hamilton established. James H. Hamilton may not have returned to be a potter since it seems that in the late 1850s James H. Hamilton took up the trade of a tinner, rather than a potter. He had married into the Black family of potters, though, and helped establish pottery firms with elaborately decorated pots. If you want a heartbreaking story, pick up Phil Schaltenbrand's Big Ware Turners to see pictures of his wife and the notes about the "greatest love story" that they shared.
Haun Jar, Knoxille News
One potter that haunts me is a Tennessee potter named Christopher Haun. Haun did not serve in the Civil War, but he was a Union sympathizer as some were in Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and Kentucky (and, well, Western Virginia, which is now West Virginia!). I imagine all of the states had their complications in one way or another. My own family were from Kentucky and fought for the Union, and I know that communities were much more layered and complex especially in the South than what we learn about in our history classes.
Haun jar, Case Antiques
Haun's work is haunting because it's so different, often with great waves of manganese slip beneath glazes, rouletted designs, stamps, wonderful shapes, and gorgeous handles.

Haun jar, Case Antiques
Haun's handles are so attractive, particularly the ones that are often called "lug handles" that swoop along the sides of the pieces (above). Haun was hanged by the Confederacy for burning bridges in Eastern Tennessee in 1861. The image at the top of the blog is a published image from a newspaper showing Haun being taken away from his family to go to the gallows.
Lowe piece, MESDA collection

I work part time at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, and when I walk past the above piece made by John Alexander Lowe, who worked with Haun, see the rouletted words along the top, I think, "What if Haun survived?" Before Haun was hanged, he instructed his wife to allow Lowe to continue the operation of his pottery and finish the work he had there, then sell his tools and discontinue the operation. Haun may not have served during the Civil War, but he was lost to war, and in some respects that stands at a similar level to the reflection we are to have on Memorial Day. 

So, what would the crafts world have been like if we did not loose some of the great representatives their field?

Final thought for the day- Idumea is one of my favorite haunting shape note hymns that never ceases to send shivers down my spine when I hear it. If you ever have a chance to hear a group sing this in person, it's amazing. Seems appropriate for the topic.