For centuries, ceramics have documented catastrophic human events.  In western society, these include wars, fires, floods, plagues and other devastating conditions.  One of America's most recalled diasters is the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  It is remembered in stories, songs, and memorablia. 

A stoneware jug was created by the Spode Factory for the 1893 World’s Fair also known as The Columbian Exposition.  Applied relief scenes depict Chicago landmarks and events that were affected by the raging fire that destroyed destroyed 17,000 Chicago buildings.  Even Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicking over the lantern which was blamed for the start of the fire is included. 

The jug was designed by Frank E. Burley of Burley & Co., State Street Chicago. A rare, original pamplet describes in detail the various scenes. While such events are tragic, ceramics help remind us of our history, no matter how painful. 

For further reading see  Robert Hunter  “Cataclysmic Ceramics” in Studio Potter , Vol. 32, No. 1 December 2003.

Epilogue:  After the initial blog was published, my friend Don Carpentier of Eastfield Village posted the original spig mold of the 1804 Block House detail one of the scenes on this jug.  Thank you is exciting to see!




Cataclysmic Ceramics - The Spode Chicago Fire Pitcher

Robert Hunter

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