Robert Hunter

With each issue of Ceramics in America it becomes increasingly apparent that there is no simple story line for our ceramic history. The complexity of that history is underscored by the fact that no single volume oVers a comprehensive assessment of America’s regionally diverse ceramics. Surveys of Chinese or English ceramics are relatively easy to find, but despite a number of publications on specific American types or individual potteries, huge gaps remain. 

How will these gaps be filled? For every professional ceramic historian there are dozens if not hundreds of enthusiastic collectors on the front line of ceramic research. Each region has its own cadre of specialists competing at flea markets and auctions for that prized specimen of locally made pottery. Unfortunately, in the past the specimen typically was stored away for safekeeping, rarely seen except in the occasional family photograph album, as many collectors are secretive and highly competitive. The truth is, it makes good economic sense not to share too much about one’s personal collecting interests or habits, information that could increase competition and raise prices.

This secretiveness is changing as more and more scholars and collectors are connecting to the Internet, where images and details about items in even the most remote country auction can be viewed with just a few keystrokes. Some collectors now have websites for their collections, and the clandestine contents of museum storerooms, previously viewable only through the graces of an accommodating curator, are increasingly available through the electronic medium. With this growing accessibility, collectors must share with professional historians the responsibility to publish. Although their scholarship might not be academically wrought, or is sometimes clumsy or even outright speculative, these enthusiasts are America’s ceramics chroniclers. 

This issue of Ceramics in America is filled with such an admixture of academic and collector research, and it is the sincere enthusiasm of both types of authors that best connects their stories. 

English-made clay tobacco pipe fragments have long provided archaeologists with a useful chronology for dating colonial-period archaeological assemblages. The colonists themselves made tobacco pipes as well, and the ethnicity of the makers—African American, Native American, and white—has preoccupied archaeological discussions for more than a decade. Al Luckenbach reports on the discovery of a circa 1660 American pipe manufactory in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Using pipe fragments, kiln remains, kiln furniture, and even raw clay, Luckenbach is able to firmly identify American pipe maker Emanuel Drue. Building on archaeologist Dan Mouer’s assertion that locally made pipes are manifestations of early American folk art, Luckenbach demonstrates the importance of the manufactory’s discovery for students of tobacco pipe technology and Chesapeake material culture. 

Another archaeology story recounts the discovery of America’s first stoneware manufactory—that of the “Poor Potter” of Yorktown, Virginia. Norman Barka’s painstaking excavation of William Rogers’s circa 1720 pottery site uncovered a large workshop complex that included the well-preserved remains of two kilns and thousands of earthenware and stoneware waster fragments. The historical significance of this site—its contribution to the story of America’s domestically made ceramics, as well as its revolutionary role in initiating an independence from imported products—cannot be overstated. Even with Barka’s persistence in the labor-intensive analysis of the site and its artifacts, research on this vast body of material will continue into the foreseeable future. 

William Rogers was the eighteenth-century Yorktown entrepreneur who owned and operated the pottery, but virtually nothing is known about the actual potters. Martha McCartney and Edward Ayres’s historical essay explains the pottery’s role in light of Rogers’s activities as a brewer and merchant. Of greater significance is their suggestion that his workforce was composed of indentured convict labor from England and augmented with African-American slaves. Barka’s ceramic analysis indicates that Rogers’s master potters were trained in state-of-the-art London stoneware technology and that some of them were well versed in Germanic-style earthenwares. Future research may help to identify these master craftsmen and explain their presence in the colonial America context. 

Yorktown potters with European training had to adapt to the locally available clays and fuels. In an unusual twist, Australian contributors Ross Ramsay, Judith Hansen, and Gael Ramsay show how clay from the western part of North Carolina may have served as the key ingredient needed for a circa 1744 London-made porcelain body. Employing a combination of historical research, connoisseurship, and rigorous chemical analysis, the authors present a convincing argument that the so-called A-marked porcelain group depended on this “Cherokee” clay for its success. Their article challenges the long-held notion that the manufacture of English porcelain was strictly a homegrown enterprise. 

In addition to the flow and exchange of materials and expertise, innovative technology is essential to ceramic invention. Jonathan Rickard and Don Carpentier examine the adaptation of the engine-turning lathe for decorating late-eighteenth-century forms. While Josiah Wedgwood may deserve the credit for adapting this metalworking device to the pottery industry, Rickard and Carpentier can be recognized as the first ceramic historians to fully discuss and illustrate the inner workings of the machine. Ceramic students are the beneficiaries of Carpentier’s quest to design and build from scratch his own engine-turning lathe, and one of the great eighteenth-century technological mysteries is now better understood. 

Identifying decorative as well as technological characteristics is essential to building regional ceramic typologies and chronologies. Based on years of personal collecting, Don Horvath and Richard Duez present their thoughtful research on the earthenware potters of Morgantown, West Virginia. The Morgantown story benefits from the preservation of a number of pots and related hand tools acquired from the Thompson family pottery in the late nineteenth century by Walter Hough, a curator of ethnology at the U.S. National Museum. Horvath and Duez show with their article the evolving exercise of identifying local potters and their products in the absence of firmly dated examples. A future article by these authors will survey the exceptional Morgantown stonewares produced by the Thompson family.

The British potter Bernard Leach likely would have relished the opportunity to examine the pots and tools of Morgantown’s nineteenth-century potters. Well known to students of contemporary ceramics but probably unfamiliar to collectors of historical wares, Leach’s The Potter’s Book is considered the bible of the British studio pottery movement, espousing both the philosophy and the aesthetics of Asian and British ceramic history. Emmanuel Cooper, editor of the international journal Ceramic Review and author of the recent comprehensive biography of Leach, oVers a lively essay chronicling the potter’s several visits to America in the 1950s and 1960s. He captures both Leach’s quick dismissal of America as “a new amalgam of races” lacking the pottery traditions of Chinese or English cultures, and his almost proselytizing fervor for encouraging American potters to find a “taproot” with which to ground their efforts. 

Two articles on nineteenth-century American stoneware, with their emphasis on the sturdy, functional, and aesthetic nature of these utilitarian pots, offer ample evidence of an established taproot for American stoneware traditions, however. Luke Zipp leads oV with new information about Henry Remmey Sr. and Henry Remmey Jr. in Baltimore circa 1807–1829 that rewrites the canon about these members of America’s best-known potting family. The author provides firm evidence of the Remmeys’ employment history in Baltimore and discusses the artistry of their work in the context of the area’s utilitarian stoneware production.

Another regional stoneware potter long recognized by local collectors is George N. Fulton, who worked in rural Virginia during the second half of the nineteenth century. Pulling together an extensive survey of extant pots, archaeology, and historical information, archaeologist and collector Kurt Russ documents this traditional potter’s career, which spanned forty years and flourished in the face of increasing mechanization of the stoneware industry. Unlike many anonymous potters, Fulton decorated and signed many of his pots with a flourish indicative of a master potter confident in his abilities, a trait highly sought by collectors today. 

Collecting without an underlying research interest is usually a somewhat soulless pursuit that can result in an accumulation with little meaning. At the other end of that spectrum are the enlightened endeavors of Ivor Noël Hume, for whom research drives the collecting. Long interested in the story of British brown stonewares, Noël Hume recently has given chase to the subject of the ubiquitous sprig-molded English brown hunting mug. Unhappy with the few standard references on the subject, he has pursued the age-old problems of establishing chronologies and tracing design sources and factory attributions by using detective work, old-fashioned connoisseurship, and a huge dose of his famous serendipity. The result is as important for methodology as for its conclusions, the most lasting of which is that research—and, by extension, collecting—is rarely finished. More undocumented brown stoneware jugs were surfacing even as this journal was going to press. 
Further evidence that ceramic research is never finished is reflected in the wide range of short articles assembled by Merry Outlaw for the journal’s New Discoveries section. In addition, Amy Earls’s solicitation of many insightful and occasionally provocative book reviews continues to guide readers—as does her bibliographic checklist—to the more interesting publications pertaining to our field. 

Upcoming issues of Ceramics in America will include more regional studies of American stoneware and earthenware potteries. Tentatively scheduled for 2006, for example, is an issue devoted to a review of the current scholarship related to southern ceramic traditions. Suggestions and comments regarding this and other future topics can be submitted via email at <>. Selected articles from previous volumes can be accessed by visiting the Chipstone Foundation’s website at <http//>.

Ceramics in America 2004