Mary Farrell
Making North Carolina Earthenware

Ceramics in America 2010

Full Article
  • Figure 1
    Figure 1

    Mug, Salem, North Carolina, 1774–1786. Lead-glazed earthenware. H. 5 1/8". (Courtesy, Old Salem Museums & Gardens; unless otherwise noted, photos by Gavin Ashworth.)

  • Figure 2
    Figure 2

    When turning has been completed, finger grooves are apparent on both the outside and the inside of the body. On the outside, use of a rib creates a very smooth surface.

  • Figure 3
    Figure 3

    Ribs, Salem, North Carolina, 1820–1860. Copper (left) and brass (right). (Courtesy, Old Salem Museums & Gardens.)

  • Figure 4
    Figure 4

    Procedural sequence showing the initial stages of turning an eighteenth-century Moravian-style mug on the wheel. A specified amount of clay is first centered and then raised using only the hands and fingers to form the cylinder. 

  • Figure 5
    Figure 5

    Once the form of the mug is raised, a grooved rib unique to each size and shape of mug is placed against the surface to produce moldings. Evidence of this technique is found on many Moravian mugs.

  • Figure 6
    Figure 6

    Some North Carolina pottery was cut from the wheel with a heavy string, leaving a shell pattern on the bottom of the mug if the wheel was moving at the time, or a striped pattern if the wheel was not turning. Although David Farrell is demonstrating this technique on a Moravian-style mug, Salem and Bethabara examples usually have smooth bottoms.

  • Figure 7
    Figure 7

    Molded handles hanging from an extruder, ready to cut to length and attach. This modern extruder is a bit more technologically advanced than the simple hand-pushed extruders used by Moravians and other North Carolina potters, but the principle is exactly the same.

  • Figure 8
    Figure 8

    Various handle terminal treatments were used on eighteenth- and ­nineteenth-century North Carolina earthenware. A simple thumbprint terminal is shown here, although this technique was not widely used by the Moravians.

  • Figure 9
    Figure 9

    Slip cups, Salem, North ­Carolina, 19th century. Left: Lead-glazed earthenware. H. 2 1/8". Right: Bisque-fired earthenware. (Courtesy, Old Salem Museums & Gardens.) These cups are typical of the form used by slipware potters in America and Europe. A quill has been inserted into the cup on the left.

  • Figure 10
    Figure 10

    Dish, Randolph County, North Carolina, 1800–1850. Lead-glazed earthenware. Dimensions not recorded. (Private collection.)

  • Figure 11
    Figure 11

    Only the hands are used in the beginning stages of turning a plate or dish. The clay is centered, then opened into a wide cylinder.

  • Figure 12
    Figure 12

    After the initial cylinder is raised, a flat or curved rib is used to form the plate or dish shape. 

  • Figure 13
    Figure 13

    Period Randolph County dishes have a distinctive type of rolled rim. The stages of flipping over the edge of the rim are shown here.

  • Figure 14
    Figure 14

    The broad, flat marly is shaped and finished using the rib.

  • Figure 15
    Figure 15

    After the dish is turned and shaped, it is allowed to dry to a leather-hard state. The simple slip-trailing is accomplished using a very dark brown—almost black—slip. The wheel is slowly rotated while the concentric bands are applied, then rotated even more slowly while zigzags and the spiraling lines are slip-trailed. As on period dishes by this potter, the zigzags often do not meet up evenly. The decoration is applied with a modern rubber bulb aspirator. 

  • Figure 16
    Figure 16

    The completed slip-trailed Randolph County–style plate in the wet state.

  • Figure 17
    Figure 17

    Dish, probably made during Rudolph Christ’s tenure as master of the pottery at Salem, North Carolina, 1790–1810. Lead-glazed earthenware. D. 12 1/2". (Courtesy, Old Salem Museums & ­Gardens.)

  • Figure 18
    Figure 18

    The process of forming a Moravian-style dish begins on the wheel with the raising of a broad cylinder. The contours of the piece are shaped with a combination of hands and a rib. 

  • Figure 19
    Figure 19

    The original Moravian dish has a very distinctive rolled rim, a diagnostic trait on antique examples. This procedural sequence shows such a rim being created, by folding over a substantial amount of clay at the top. The edge comes to a peak before being rolled and rounded.

  • Figure 20
    Figure 20

    A curved rib is used to shape the shallow curve of the middle booge. The marlys of Moravian dishes are more concave than many North Carolina examples owing to their makers’ use of a curbed rib to flatten and smooth the surface.

  • Figure 21
    Figure 21

    The finished thrown and shaped dish. 

  • Figure 22
    Figure 22

    After the dish has dried to a leather-hard state, a base coat of cream-colored slip is applied with a brush. Four coats of the base slip are used, with very short drying time between each coat, in order to have a solid base color. 

  • Figure 23
    Figure 23

    Once the background slip has dried enough so a finger pressed gently to its surface will not mar it, the slip-trailed decoration is applied. This series of photographs illustrates the sequence of laying out the various elements of the floral decoration like on the original (fig. 17). Note the loose, flowing lines used to create the flowers and the fairly simple rim pattern. The application of the slip is sketchlike and can be completed in a matter of minutes.

  • Figure 24
    Figure 24

    The replica Moravian plate, shown next to a photograph of the original, is left to dry before being bisque-fired. After being coated with lead glaze, the dish is given a final firing. 

  • Figure 25
    Figure 25

    Dish, Alamance County, North Carolina, 1790–1820. Lead-glazed earthenware. D. 10 1/2". (Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.)

  • Figure 26
    Figure 26

    Procedural sequence showing the formation of the marly and rim on a replica of the Alamance County dish illustrated in fig. 25. A fairly small amount of clay is folded over and sealed against the underside of the plate. The rim has a relatively straight profile, and on the top surface only the edge curls up slightly.

  • Figure 27
    Figure 27

    The Alamance County dish had a small base, a fairly large and steep middle booge, and an upper rim with a curve just at the top edge. The base-to-upper-rim proportion is small. 

  • Figure 28
    Figure 28

    The inside is coated with black slip. The distinctive shape of this potter’s dishes can be readily seen in this photograph. 

  • Figure 29
    Figure 29

    Concentric lines of slip are applied to the replica Alamance County dish after the background slip has been allowed to dry somewhat. 

  • Figure 30
    Figure 30

    The Alamance County potter whose work is being replicated here typically used more elaborate marly decoration than his Moravian contemporaries. He apparently began trailing in the center, then worked his way out. The lozenge-shaped elements are laid out in red slip then filled with white slip.

  • Figure 31
    Figure 31

    Dots of red slip are placed systematically on the white ground of the lozenges.

  • Figure 32
    Figure 32

    A needle tool is used to create the marbled effects by swirling the dots of red slip into the wet white ground. 

  • Figure 33
    Figure 33

    The decorated replica dish, shown next to a photograph of the original, is left to dry before being bisque-fired. After being coated with lead glaze, the dish is given a final firing. The heat from the firing and the addition of lead glaze will change the colors of the slips close to those of the original dish illustrated in fig. 25. 

  • Figure 34
    Figure 34

    Bowl, attributed to Solomon Loy, Alamance County, North Carolina, 1825–1840. Lead-glazed earthenware. D. 6 1/4". ­(Private collection.)

  • Figure 35
    Figure 35

    Slip is poured inside the leather-hard bowl to coat the surface, then the excess is poured out.

  • Figure 36
    Figure 36

    Dripping various colors of slip is a technique associated with Solomon Loy. This process takes only a few seconds.

  • Figure 37
    Figure 37

    On some period examples, it is apparent that the piece was rotated slowly during the application of the slip, which gave the drops a slight curve. 

  • Figure 38
    Figure 38

    Bowl, Alamance County, North Carolina, 1790–1820. Lead-glazed earthenware. H. 3". (Private collection.)

  • Figure 39
    Figure 39

    A bowl, still damp, is dipped in orange slip that is only slightly different in color from the clay the piece is made from. The bowl is then allowed to dry a bit before being slip-trailed. 

  • Figure 40
    Figure 40

    The bowl is placed upside down on a banding wheel and decorated with cream, green, and dark brown slips. By trial and error, we realized the original bowl (fig. 38) was slip-trailed while upside down rather than right side up. 

  • Figure 41
    Figure 41

    The replica bowl, just after being slip-trailed. When the piece is dry, it will be bisque-fired, then covered with a clear-firing lead glaze for the final burning. 

  • Figure 42
    Figure 42

    Teabowl fragments recovered at the Mount Shepherd pottery site, Randolph County, North Carolina, 1793–1800. Lead-glazed earthenware. (Courtesy, Mount Shepherd Collection, Mount Shepherd Retreat Center.)

  • Figure 43
    Figure 43

    Light-colored slip is poured into a Mount Shepherd–style teabowl while it is still damp. Excess slip is poured out and wiped off the exterior. The wet slip makes the bowl very moist, which could cause the form to collapse, so the bowl is allowed to dry somewhat before the ­exterior slip is applied. 

  • Figure 44
    Figure 44

    After a period of drying, the outside of a Mount Shepherd–style teabowl is dipped in the light-colored slip. 

  • Figure 45
    Figure 45

    On the Mount Shepherd-style teabowl, the slip background is allowed to air-dry completely before the initial decoration is sponged onto the surface in alternating bands. This ensures that the applied copper and manganese oxides will be properly absorbed into the surface.

  • Figure 46
    Figure 46

    Once the sponging is completed, a brush is used to apply small circles of manganese oxide and water over the copper oxide bands, as seen on the original specimen. 

  • Figure 47
    Figure 47

    After the decorated wares are bisque-fired, the final glaze is applied by pouring and/or dipping. During the second firing, this glaze will melt to form a clear glass, allowing the decoration underneath to show through. Unlike period examples, the glaze being applied here is lead-free, so the finished piece can be used safely with food.