Robert Hunter

The level of ceramic scholarship presented in the first decade of the twenty-first century hints that we have much to look forward to in the coming years. In this Internet age, the accessibility of auction records and museum and private collections is unprecedented. Moreover, the ability of archaeologists, scholars, students, and enthusiasts to share information and images quickly and widely via various social media websites such as Facebook has resulted in an explosion of knowledge and interest.

Nevertheless, rigorous research procedures are still essential. Both professional and amateur ceramic students must spend daunting amounts of time absorbing, culling, and synthesizing before they feel comfortable in presenting their findings. The latest labor-saving electronic contrivance cannot substitute—connoisseurship requires immersion, absorption, and reflection of one’s research topic before meaningful publication or exhibition can take place.

From a personal perspective, one of the most gratifying articles presented in the 2012 volume of Ceramics in America is “Late-Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century Japanese Domestic Wares from British Columbia” by Doug Ross. Ross presents a detailed overview of a genre of industrially produced Japanese ceramics that are found on many domestic sites in North America. The manufacturing history of these inexpensive wares has always taken a back seat to that of the more widely recognized Chinese porcelains. Clearly the industrialization of Japan’s ceramic centers, coupled with a global marketing strategy, resulted in a huge class of useful and ­decorative wares for the American consumer in the early twentieth century. Ross’s careful analysis of a single assemblage in British Columbia will serve as the Rosetta stone for archaeologists working on other sites throughout America.

While it may be understandable that “cheap and cheerful” ceramics produced industrially in Japan have not been the focus of much scholarly attention, America’s own history of ceramic production remains a fertile ground for research and collecting. The large production centers in Trenton, New Jersey, and East Liverpool, Ohio, are among the best known, but smaller ceramic concerns existed in other towns whose histories have yet to be fully understood. One such town was Baltimore, Maryland. This city, often noted for its production of blue and gray salt-glazed stoneware, also developed a molded earthenware industry and, in the later part of the nineteenth century, produced porcelain. In their article “A History of Baltimore Porcelain,” ceramic scholars and collectors Barbara and Ken Beem chronicle the endeavors of Edwin Bennett and David Francis Haynes, the leading figures in Baltimore’s industrial ceramic scene. To demonstrate the technological achievements and aesthetic sensibilities of this little-known American ceramic center, the Beems illustrate a wide range of porcelain products that were made by these entrepreneurs and their associates.

The Western world’s fascination with Chinese porcelain is rooted in an age of expansion, conquest, and the opening of global markets. While the hard white body with its exotic decoration was once acclaimed as a mysterious and magical substance, it also served a basic function as tableware for a wide range of consumers. Linda Pomper’s article “Early Chinese Porcelain Found in Panama” examines the archaeological evidence for the earliest importation of these wares to the New World. Using archaeological findings from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century contexts in Panama, she discusses the impact this product had on taste, fashion, and aesthetics in European culture. Whereas examples of early Chinese export porcelain are enshrined in major art museums and private collections of today’s elite, Pomper’s archaeological evidence shows that, at one time, these dishes were “merely” serviceable commodities, often broken and easily discarded.

The early-nineteenth-century domestic landscape for many New England inhabitants was dominated by blue-and-white Chinese porcelain tablewares, known generically as “Canton.” In an attempt to better understand the history and depth of the decorative vocabulary used in the standardized hand-painted chinoiseries of these mass-produced products, Leslie and Peter Warwick offer “New Perspectives on Chinese Export Blue-and-White Canton Porcelain.” At the heart of their thesis is The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting (1679–1701), which they cite to illustrate the thousand-year legacy of many of the motifs used by the Canton porcelain painters. These images were central to Chinese cosmology and Buddhist doctrine and held great symbolic meaning for the Eastern cultures. Students of material culture might well consider investigating how this imagery affected Western consumers as well.

In recent years, new technology used in underwater exploration has opened a new window to the ceramic world, since countless forgotten ships and their cargoes litter the ocean floor. Unlike any other type of historic resource, these wrecks, many of which bore new products bound for distant markets, provide a snapshot of a specific time and place. Publication of such finds—both in print and online—is a critical step in making this information accessible to a world audience. An exciting report of this kind is presented by Sean Kingsley, Ellen Gerth, and Michael Hughes in “Ceramics from the Tortugas Shipwreck: A Spanish-Operated Navio of the 1622 Tierra Firme Fleet.” Although many of the stories associated with this fleet, which was destroyed in a hurricane, revolve around its fabled treasure cargo, for ceramic historians the value of the investigation lies in the remarkable ceramic assemblages that have been found at the bottom of the sea. Of particular note is the authors’ use of the latest forensic science to find the source of the tin-glazed earthenwares, which were produced in the Andalusian region of Spain. Their research offers insights into the economic strategies of the Spanish government during the last years of Spain’s dominance of global conquest and expansion.

Another ship’s cargo is at the center of George Miller’s “Ceramics from the 1813 Prize Brig Ann, Auctioned in Salem, Massachusetts: An Analysis.” Here, the hold’s contents consisted of 250 crates of “Liverpool Ware” that are known only from written records. The crates—taken from an English merchant ship seized by an American privateer during the naval actions in the War of 1812—were sold in April 1813, each itemized in specific detail in the auction records. The shipment was made up of common earthenware of the period (plain creamware, designated as CC), blue- and green-edged earthenwares, and other painted and “fancy” wares. Miller’s detailed examination of the contents—more than 100,000 individual vessels—reveals the packing strategies of the ceramic trade in preparation for retailers. In addition, Miller’s analysis of these records underscores the sheer volume of common tablewares produced by the British ceramic industry and exported to furnish the tables of American consumers.

Although the country’s reliance on imported earthenwares continued for most of the nineteenth century, until domestic manufacturers began producing sufficient quantities, utilitarian stoneware was being made in regional centers throughout much of the United States. These salt-glazed vessels were mandatory in American households in the pre-refrigeration age for preserving foodstuffs of all kinds. The potting centers that arose in major metropolitan centers were generally family owned and operated. The economic and social importance of American salt-glaze has been overlooked to some degree, but a dedicated cadre of ceramic collectors has taken up the slack, acquiring and researching surviving examples from among the literally hundreds of manufacturers.

One of the most well known of these regional potting centers is Alexandria, Virginia, and a great deal of archaeological research has been undertaken on several important potteries in the city. Unlike many other stoneware products, a number of Alexandria vessels were stamped with maker’s marks. In the first installment of a two-part article, Barbara Magid presents “‘Stone-ware of excellent quality, Alexandria manufacture,’” which focuses on the legacy of John Swann. Swann started his potting career as a fourteen-year-old orphan in 1803 and rose to prominence over the next two decades. Combining archaeological findings and newly illustrated examples, Magid traces the history of this seminal potter and his products, certain to delight many an American stoneware collector.

Just as stoneware was produced at the regional level for a particular market, much of today’s research is conducted by interested parties within those same geographic regions. Warren Hartmann, a lifelong collector and scholar of American stoneware, shares some of his experiences in “The Stoneware of Early Albany: A Mystery Solved.” In the absence of signed or documented pieces, collectors have to rely on a number of variables to assign specimens to a specific time or place and then, ideally, attribute them to an individual maker. Hartmann began his adventure with the purchase of what was to become many examples of work he attributes, after twenty years of study and analysis, to the pottery of William Capron (1763–1823) of Albany, New York.

Albany was also home to potter Paul Cushman, one of the best-known New York potters—primarily because he signed so much of his ware, but also because he had unique aesthetic sensibilities that arguably exemplify the essence of American folk decoration on stoneware. We are fortunate to have the testimony of the potter’s great-grandson, who has done much to maintain and promote the legacy of Cushman stoneware. In “Paul Cushman: The Premier Albany Potter and His Stoneware,” the current Paul Cushman, a retired physician, maintains this legacy through a collection of pots and related family memorabilia and shares this meaningful connection with our readers.

This year’s issue of the journal marks the discontinuation of the New Discoveries section, so ably edited over the years by Merry Outlaw. Given the immediacy of electronic communication, it was decided that such notes could be presented in a much more timely fashion in digital form. We therefore invite readers to visit the Ceramics in America Facebook page—and to select “like” in order to receive updates on research and discoveries.

The journal concludes with book reviews of relevant ceramic publications edited by Amy Earls. We remain committed to keeping these reviews in print form. As always, readers may suggest recent publications for review.

Ceramics in America 2012