Monday, January 5, 2015

Don Carpentier Tribute- the Half Saggars

Don showing the engine lathe in his pottery shop.
The world lost a giant in 2014 when Don Carpentier passed away. Don Carpentier was the mastermind behind Eastfield Village, and a maker of reproduction English mocha/dipped wares and shell-edge pottery. Eastfield was host to a series of workshops each year, focusing on various aspects of historic craft and architectural preservation. One of the workshops was focused on ceramics and pottery production, and was fondly nicknamed "Dish Camp." As a plug, the ceramics workshop as well as many of the other workshops are slated to take place this year. I will post more information when it becomes available.

Demonstrating kiln furniture and stacking at Eastfield in 2014.
I first attended the ceramics workshop in 2009, and first presented in 2011. Don was one of the few potters and skilled craftspeople that I have found such a strong connection with because of his interest in historic pottery, his experience in making reproductions, and his intense passion for learning. There are also few people I have met who get quite as excited about kiln furniture as I do. I think I was most heartbroken when Don passed because I lost such a kindred spirit and a mentor.
 Don had ALS for the last several years of his life and for the past two years that I saw him we communicated through various aspects other than speech. We once had a whole conversation in the dirt, drawing out ideas and wiping them away. In the summer of 2014 he had an Ipad that he typed things onto, but he still communicated on paper. I enjoyed our paper communications since we could banter back and forth through pictures, words, or just plain understanding what the other person was trying to say because we understood pottery on a similar level. Above is a photo of a conversation we had about half-saggars, excavated from a waster dump associated with the Bissett family of potters from New Jersey.
Photo of kiln furniture Don excavated in New Jersey. Courtesy, Don's Facebook page.

Photo of kiln furniture Don excavated in New Jersey. Courtesy, Don's Facebook page.
Don realized a few years ago through genealogical research that he descended from several prominent family of potters from New Jersey- the Bissett's and the Price's. Their exact history was obscured for so long because focus had been paid largely on the Morgan and Van Wickle potteries in New Jersey. However, Don being his lovely exploratory self, sought out more information about his family and began to break down some of the previous research on New Jersey stoneware. Above are a few photos of kiln furniture from a house site associated with the Bissett family near where the pottery operated. Don also wrote a great article on his research in the Maine Antique Digest in 2013, but the link is currently blocked unless you are a subscriber. If I get a direct link I will be sure to change it. You can read some notes on his research and collecting in a great tribute written by Brandt Zipp from Crocker Farm.

So, back to those half-saggars."Half-saggars?!" you might say? Don't worry, I said the same thing! They are purposefully-made, not fully round pieces in the same shape as a regular saggar. The edges are mostly clean-cut, and salted, so they were definitely used in the manner in which they were made.
Kiln furniture bar with piece of saggar attached.

Imprint of adjoining rim on base of kiln furniture.
Above is a piece of kiln furniture that had a piece of a saggar left on it as well as the imprint of an adjoining saggar rim.  Don came up to me while I was photographing the kiln furniture after most everyone left on Sunday. He saw me puzzling out the pieces and began placing them together so that I could wrap my brain around how they worked.
Placing a few half-saggars and kiln furniture together.

 I have never seen anything like this before or since, and am glad I took the time to measure the half saggars while I was there last summer. Saggars, as I have so frequently thought of them, are often fully round, and often enclosed (no holes or perforations) if not being used in a salt-glaze atmosphere.

Rough sketch of how the half-saggars and large bars may have interacted.
Saggars also tend to have a bottom of some kind, but instead, these saggars made use of thick, long bars that crossed the saggars to make a slotted floor.  It makes sense that this type of saggar would make use of more room and leave less empty space. Don wrote on our note I included above that they (the potters) were "desperate people," but perhaps they were just good engineers and figured something out that others had not. He also wrote "It must have been a site[sight] to see!" and truly, it probably was quite a sight when they had the kiln stacked up. As I was leaving "Dish Camp" last year, Don tapped me on the shoulder and guided me to a box of kiln furniture from the Bissett site and told me to take it home for my kiln furniture teaching collection.  I have a few small sections of these half-saggars in my collection now with the gift from Don, and hope that the other materials will stay together with his NJ pottery collection as a teaching tool. I wish I could have gone with him on his last expedition to excavate materials from near the pottery site in New Jersey.

Also, the week of "Dish Camp" was the beginning of when we started telling people I was pregnant. I will never forget the gleam of joy on Don's face when I told him. After giving him a hug before I left Eastfield, I told him to take care. He looked at me, smiling, pointed to my stomach, and mouthed, "you take care, too!"Thanks for all you did, Don, and for the short years I got to know you.


Curtis said...

Thanks for posting this. Great information from two great potters. Don was truly a giant in so many ways.

Jonathan Rickard said...

Beautifully said. It brought Don back to life for a moment. And my eyes are wet.

Liz W. said...

I met Don very briefly at Fort York in Toronto years ago. Sadly it was that brief, but in that time I learned so much from him about his life. I never did get to visit his home. But he always remained someone in my thoughts. A fascinating and interesting man. The world has lost another wonderful spirit. RIP Don.