Robert Hunter

The 2009 volume of Ceramics in America is the first of a two-part publication project on the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century earthenware traditions of the North Carolina piedmont. The current volume presents exciting new research on the Moravian potters and the remarkable earthenware they produced in the Bethabara and Salem communities. Many examples of their sophisticated and highly decorative slipwares and fascinating figural bottles are illustrated for the first time in full color. The 2010 issue will expand the discussion of the Moravian story by presenting a series of pioneering articles on other producers of decorative slipwares in the North Carolina piedmont.

The story of Moravian earthenware has been a highly acclaimed but some­what mysterious chapter in American ceramics history. Prescient collectors and dealers of the early twentieth century mined the homes of the American South in pursuit of the flamboyantly slip-decorated dishes and endearing figural squirrel, bear, and fish bottles. Many of these treasures found new homes in Northern museum collections, losing their complex historical associations in the process.

Although they have been cherished as masterworks of American craftsmanship, appreciation of Moravian products did not reach full flower until archaeological research into the Bethabara and Salem communities was undertaken by the preeminent archaeologist Stanley South beginning in 1963. During his investigations, South explored the potteries of Gottfried Aust and Rudolph Christ and retrieved invaluable ceramic fragments that could be firmly associated with their makers. The significance of South’s research cannot be overstated, and his publications have stood the test of time. In particular, readers are referred to Historical Archaeology in Wachovia: Excavating Eighteenth-Century Bethabara and Moravian Pottery (1999) as an essential resource.

In 1972 John Bivins Jr. published The Moravian Potters in North Carolina, an extensive historical analysis of existing antique ceramic objects, molds, and tools. This landmark book, which incorporates South’s archaeological findings, has served as the publication of record for North Carolina earthenware for nearly forty years. Collectors, dealers, and auction houses have relied almost exclusively on Bivins’s work when assigning attributions to new objects in the marketplace.

Other notable research has appeared in a series of articles published by Bradford Rauschenberg, former director of research at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts at Old Salem, in the Journal of Early Southern Decorative Arts. Of particular note are the presentation of discoveries of Moravian potter Carl Eisenberg and Staffordshire potter William Ellis, who worked in the Salem pottery for five months in 1773–1774.

As new research has been undertaken and more and more objects have been discovered in the antique market in recent years, inconsistencies in some of Bivins’s attributions caught the attention of scholars who were intimately familiar with the material. In the opening essay to this volume, Luke Beckerdite and Johanna Brown reevaluate previous scholarship on Moravian ceramics, offering new insights based on recent archaeological findings and enhanced techniques of connoisseurship. Through hands-on examination and intensive photo documentation of hundreds of antique objects, the authors challenge many of Bivins’s chronological assumptions and his attributions of specific slip-decorating styles to master potter Gottfried Aust and his successor Rudolph Christ. Beyond their arguments of attribution, Becker­dite and Brown offer the significant contribution of recognizing the role of the elaborately decorated slipware dishes in the context of Moravian cosmology. Employing analytic technique often restricted to literary analysis, they suggest that the slip-decorated imagery served as visual symbols of Moravian religious faith.

The story behind most New World ceramic traditions is one of immigration and adaptation to the local resources and markets. One of the most important episodes in American ceramics history was the immigration of Staffordshire potter John Bartlam to Charleston, South Carolina, about 1763. Evidence of creamware and porcelain that Bartlam produced between 1765 and 1770 in the small settlement of Cain Hoy, just north of Charleston, was first made known through the research and excavations of Stanley South and Brad Rauschenberg. While a discussion of Bartlam might at first seem out of place for a volume devoted to Moravian pottery, his production of Staffordshire-style wares on American soil is indelibly linked to a significant turn of events in the history of ceramics production at Salem. One of Bartlam’s English workers, William Ellis, visited the Salem pottery in 1773 and instructed the Moravian potters in the industrial techniques of making English earthenware. As prologue to the Ellis story, Lisa Hudgins reviews those very Staffordshire ceramics types attributed to Bartlam’s Cain Hoy production. Hudgins’s analysis of the Bartlam evidence shows an incredibly diverse range of molded forms and glaze treatments that at first glance appear identical to the prevailing Staffordshire ware of the period. It was his working knowledge of how to produce these forms that Ellis brought to the Salem community.

William Ellis left Bartlam’s employment in South Carolina to become part of the Wachovia community between December 1773 and May 1774. During this period he instructed Aust and Christ in the techniques of making British-style queensware. Robert Hunter summarizes what is known of Ellis’s visit and the subsequent production of these “finewares,” as the Moravians called them.

Much of the historical evidence is circumstantial, but an important archaeological discovery on the site of the Salem pottery has made available for consideration some of the most significant American-made ceramic objects. South’s archaeological excavations turned up fragmentary evidence for Ellis’s contribution in introducing Staffordshire ceramics tech­nology to the Moravian potters. The archaeological finds suggest that the local white clay, though not a perfect substitute, was adequate for the replication of several types of relatively thin creamware forms using extruders, roulettes, and sprig molds. Whether the fragments represent the work of William Ellis or are later attempts by Rudolph Christ remains a significant mystery and calls for future archaeological excavation of the important Salem pottery lots.

Most of the utilitarian and decorative wares made by the Moravian potters were thrown on the wheel using the local coarse red earthenware clay. But those potters are equally well known for their production of press-molded tobacco pipes, stove tiles, and an array of figural bottles. Johanna Brown reviews the evidence of the forms and production techniques used in the Wachovia potteries for more than 125 years. While pipe and tile production can be found in other American ceramics traditions, the bottles are unique to the North Carolina Moravians. These sculptural bottles are a literal menagerie of animal forms—bears, crustaceans, fish, foxes, squirrels, and turtles. The few surviving examples are highly treasured by collectors. In her discussion, Brown demonstrates that the bottles were equally popular with the Moravian pottery shop’s customers and hypothesizes about the origins of the figural bottles and their meanings. While it remains unclear who introduced the sophisticated molding technology required for the figural bottles, we can credit Rudolph Christ for overseeing the production of these highly successful additions to the shop’s utilitarian line of thrown jars, jugs, and mugs.

The utilitarian wares made by Moravian potters were a material expression of the community’s continuing traditions and conservative values. In his article on Heinrich Schaffner, Salem’s potter from 1834 to 1889, and Schaffner’s successor Daniel Krause, Michael Hartley examines the continuum of pottery made to serve the Moravian community with ample supporting archaeological evidence. Most surprising is the proliferation of earthenware pots made specifically for hearth cooking, a tradition that had virtually disappeared from most mainstream American communities. Other unexpected finds at the Schaffner-Krause pottery site further demonstrate a continuation of earlier Moravian ceramics—forms mimicking English teawares, figural bottles, and slip-decorated dishes. The latter part of the nineteenth century saw the pottery producing thousands of clay pipe bowls for North Carolina’s burgeoning tobacco industry. At least thirteen styles of pipes have been identified, many of which are identical to those that were being produced in Bethabara and Salem a century earlier.

Another illustration of how traditional ceramics forms can be transmitted throughout a larger community is seen in Alain Outlaw’s summary of his 1974 and 1975 excavation of the Mount Shepherd pottery in Randolph County, North Carolina. Jacob Meyers, a former apprentice of Salem’s master potter Gottfried Aust in 1786, left the community to start the Mount Shepherd pottery in 1793. Meyers worked the pottery until 1799, returning to Bethabara but leaving behind a remarkably well-preserved kiln and a large waster pit with some spectacular examples of North Carolina slipware. Because the site is extremely well preserved and its location remote, Outlaw’s excavation is one of the most important pottery-related investigations ever conducted in the American South. For the first time, the major pottery finds are described in detail and presented in full color. Outlaw’s excavation and analysis firmly demonstrate the appropriations of Aust’s technical and stylistic repertoire and Meyers’s own decorative innovations. Despite Meyers’s apparent ability to produce a full range of successful ceramic products, as of this writing no extant examples have been firmly attributed to his production.

Previous volumes of Ceramics in America have illustrated the technical aspects of making pottery, and this issue investigates the production of two iconic Moravian ceramic forms. In the first technology essay, Robert Hunter and Michelle Erickson discuss and demonstrate the throwing technique used to make the ring bottles, or flasks, a cache of which was discovered during excavation of Lot 49, adjacent to the location of Salem’s pottery site. Close study of fragments of these bright greenish blue bottles revealed evidence about the techniques used in their construction that might have not been noticed in intact examples; in fact, the throwing technique used for this particular form is unparalleled in other Moravian forms. Hunter and Erickson suggest that production of the ring bottle can be attributed to the enigmatic Moravian potter Carl Eisenberg, who appeared in Salem in 1793 and introduced faience glaze formulas to its pottery.

While the Moravian figural bottles have received much attention from collectors, and numerous original molds survive in Old Salem, little attention has been directed to a full comprehension of the technical constraints behind their origin and manufacture. Erickson, Hunter, and Caroline Hannah examine the entire process of making a Moravian squirrel bottle—from creating an original model to casting and assembling a finished replica. This experimental project demonstrates the mechanisms behind the variations seen in the many extant examples and underscores the need to investigate the underlying manufacturing processes of other Moravian products.

The 2010 volume of Ceramics in America will expand current preconceptions of North Carolina slipware by identifying other traditions of the piedmont that were operating concurrently with the Moravian potters. New revelations will alter attributions and uncover a complex network of potting traditions organized along familial lines. Contributors will include Luke Beckerdite, Johanna Brown, Linda F. Carnes-McNaughton, Michelle Erickson, Mary Farrell, Robert Hunter, Eleanor Minnock-Pugh, Victor Owen, and Hal E. Pugh. The 2010 volume will conclude with “Visual Index to North Carolina Earthenware Digital Database,” a photographic database accessible through the Chipstone Foundation’s website,, which will give researchers and scholars the means to build on the extensive research undertaken for this project.

Ceramics in America 2009