America’s extraordinary ceramic heritage results from ideas and ceramic technologies brought to this country through centuries of European immigration. The articles in Ceramics in America 2003 are linked by the themes of cultural innovations, migrations, and adaptations. Although these presentations deal with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century ceramics, the concept of cultural diVusion—the ow of styles and conventions from one region or social group to another—also applies to the study of America’s earliest ceramics.
Pottery in the New World appeared in the Amazon Basin nearly 7,000 years ago. By the third millennium B.C., native populations in southeastern North America were making and using a variety of clay vessels. Since these early cultures left no written record, their fragments of clay pots provide the only evidence to learn about their ceramic history. Ceramics specialists try to decode the silent language encapsulated in the wares by studying clay constituents, manufacturing techniques, and functional and stylistic attributes. Unfortunately, this is not easy research as the various permutations of these cultural traditions are endless. For example, even the most basic questions of how and where pottery making originated in the New World have yet to be fully answered.
We do know that European ceramics €rst appeared in America with the arrival of the early Spanish explorers. America’s ceramic legacy took on a truly global perspective in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with the inux of English, Dutch, and French settlers. Chinese and Japanese porcelain from the Far East found its way here as well.
Those of us who restrict our ceramic research to America’s historic period usually expect to have an easier task than prehistorians in studying cultural innovation, adaptation, migration, borrowing, mixing, and outright appropriation. But do we? Almost everyday a new ceramic object is excavated—or discovered at the ea market or sold at a major New York or London auction—that confounds even the most self-assured expert. These unexpected €nds continue to stimulate and energize us as collectors and scholars, forcing us to develop new methods for looking at old pots. Some of these strategies will be evident in this year’s journal articles.
After two hundred years of dependence on British and European ceramics, a true American industry began to develop in the nineteenth century. This development coincided with western expansion, growing transportation networks, an emergent middle-class market, and the wholesale immigration of StaVordshire-trained potters to America. Miranda Goodby examines the correspondence of some of these StaVordshire potters who presented €rst-person accounts of their experiences in a new country. These surviving documents illustrate the debt owed to the StaVordshire potters, and, perhaps more importantly, their letters remind us of the people behind the anonymous pots made in America in the 1800s.
Among the products produced by these potters was a brown glazed ceramics type known as Rockingham. Rockingham wares were America’s €rst mass-produced domestic ceramics, made in factories from the Mid-Atlantic to the Midwest beginning in the 1830s and 1840s. Documentary and archaeological evidence indicates that Rockingham were mostly plain, utilitarian wares. However, a number of decorative molded forms were produced using techniques directly borrowed from the StaVordshire potteries. Arthur Goldberg presents an overview of the major Rockingham producers, illustrated with examples from his collection of American pottery.
Barbara Magid and Bernard Means examine another type of American pottery that was made in late eighteenth-century Alexandria, Virginia. The potters are members of the Henry Piercy family from Saarbrücken, Germany, and the ceramic type is a slip-decorated redware. Most scholars have been exposed to the more widely published slipwares of Philadelphia. Magid and Means discovered that both Alexandria and Philadelphia products share many characteristics that make them virtually indistinguishable. To help solve this dilemma, the authors employed Mössbauer spectroscopy to distinguish the Philadelphia clay body from the Alexandria clay body. Not only is their article important for their comprehensive color presentation of the range of the Alexandria slipwares, Magid and Mean’s research con€rms the value of material science to help sort out the products of other American regional potteries.
Immigrant potters arrived in America with only their experience and technological repertoire as they adapted to the local clays and fuel resources. Particulars of their technical secrets were often lost. In an eVort to rediscover one such technique, Michelle Erickson and this author explore the mysteries of agateware, a ceramic type that blends two or more colors of solid clay to create the illusion of a marble or agate stone. In searching for the origin of this specialized ceramic technique, they argue that eighth-century T’ang dynasty ceramics served as the prototypes for mid-eighteenth-century StaVordshire agateware, underscoring the international nature of stylistic borrowing.
For ceramic historians to fully understand the diVerences and similarities in various cultural traditions, comparative analysis of ceramic assemblages is essential. The importance of archaeology in providing primary data for this type of analysis is demonstrated by Peter Williams’ documentation of a signi€cant late seventeenth-and early eighteenth-century tavern group recovered from Tetbury, England. Distinguished by a preponderance of nearly complete mugs, this collection of early English tavern wares aVords the opportunity for researchers to make direct comparisons with wares from other English and American taverns.
Cultural traditions can also be studied by tracing the evolution and use of a single artifact type through time and space. In an encyclopedic voyage through several centuries of ceramic history, Ivor Noël Hume elevates the humble chamber pot from an object of derision to a vital cultural artifact. The ownership and use of this universal receptacle transcended many economic and social boundaries possibly qualifying it as the most democratic all ceramic forms.
If chamber pots are among the least personalized forms, then ceramic grave markers have to be the most individualized. Reecting their owners’ social status as well as their identity, ceramic grave markers are common in a number of cultures. Richard Veit and Mark Nonestied have identi€ed the unique use of terracotta in a New Jersey community that fashioned architectural elements for the building of late nineteenth-and early twentieth-century New York City. Their study expands the traditional view of the medium and highlights the aesthetic contribution of this fascinating form of mortuary art.
Collecting ceramics continues to be a recurring topic in journal articles. Graham Hood reminisces on the ceramic highlights from his multi-faceted curatorial career at some of America’s most important decorative arts museums. Although he might be termed a “professional” collector relying upon rational accessions needs, his poetic essay belies an academic approach and reveals the passionate attraction to the ceramic medium that many of us share but struggle to express.
Both passion and rational thought are apparent in Anthony Butera’s essay on collecting Long Island redware. Focusing on the production of the Huntington potteries, Butera draws upon a number of historical, archaeological, and comparative sources, relying on “informed conjecture” to make his attributions and assertions. In the absence of institutional interest, regional typologies will continue to be built by dedicated collectors such as Butera.
The best tool for any collector or ceramic scholar remains his or her library. Towards that end, New Discoveries editor Merry Outlaw has assembled a variety of short contributions on important new research. An anthropomorphic theme pervades her selections wherein some aspect of the human €gure is portrayed. Book review editor Amy Earls has again compiled a wide range of book reviews along with a comprehensive bibliography of ceramic scholarship published during the last year.
Many of the themes addressed in this third Ceramics in America will be revisited in future issues. More regional studies of American redware and stoneware potteries will be presented during the next few years. In addition, some exciting new information about eighteenth-century English porcelain in the American context will be forthcoming. Comments on articles or suggestions for future topics can be submitted via email at <CeramicJournal@aol.com.> Selected articles from previous volumes can also be accessed on the Chipstone Foundation’s website <http//:www.chip-stone.org.>