Wednesday, December 2, 2009

North Carolina Pottery Jugs, Jay Henderson

Jay Henderson, of Backcountry Notes, writes another great article on NC pottery.
This time he explores the North Carolina Jug, one of my favorite forms.
Take the time for a good read and some great pictures.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

North Carolina Art Pottery Pitchers

By Jay Henderson

Pitchers and jugs are my favorite forms of art pottery -- and I include along with pitchers, cream and sugar sets, which provide a pitcher plus a bowl. Bonus. If a potter "sees me coming," he or she will place a few colorful pitchers at eye level. I actually use some of them, mostly for watering plants and other low-risk tasks, although most of these illustrated live in display cabinets or on high shelves. Right: Long-necked pitcher attributed to Thurston Cole, C. C. Cole Pottery.

Click on any image for a larger view.

When Jugtown Pottery kicked off the North Carolina art pottery movement in the early 1920s, its owners focused on two lines of ware: traditional lead-glazed "dirt dish" earthenware and new, colorful pieces based on oriental designs. Potters in the surrounding area observed no such strictures; whether by genius or by serendipity, they used colorful art-pottery glazes on anything that went into the kiln, pitchers included. The pitchers sold and, some nine decades later, they still sell.

Above: Green earthenware pitcher made by M. L. Owens, Seagrove area, North Carolina

The form and finish of the art-pottery pitcher demonstrates the range of the skills of the maker: the turning of the body; the formation of the spout; the attachment of the handle; and the selection and application of the glaze. As with other forms, each potter tends to develop characteristic methods which help to identify the maker even when a piece is unmarked -- and there a many unmarked, vintage pieces.

Left: The Rebecca Jug is also known as the Rebecca Pitcher. This example by Joe Owen illustrates the essential elements of the pitcher -- rounded on the lower body, necked in above, a widened rim shaped to form a spout, and an added handle.

As a utilitarian form, pitchers were made by all traditional potters, both in earthenware and stoneware. However, while a straight-sided vessel with a minimal spout and a plain handle would have been sufficient for the purpose, these working potters showed a high degree of artisanship in the making of such items. This may have had a commercial impetus -- a nice-looking pitcher would fetch a penny more than a plain one, perhaps -- but it also reflects the desire of many makers to turn pots which had a touch of artistry.

Pictured above: the genuine article -- a redware pitcher "slicked" with a clear lead-fluxed glaze. This example, with an ice lip, was found in North Carolina, maker unknown. It displays a simple elegance of form and function. The colors in the glaze are from impurities in the clay, rather than deliberate decoration.
When salt-glazed ware came to dominate the pottery trade during the 19th century, it was often fired green and plain, any embellishment being provided by the effects of the wood fire and the occasional kiln drip. Sometimes potters would decorate their pitchers and other utilitarian items with designs in cobalt oxide brushed on before firing. Cobalt oxide retains its blue color at the high temperatures needed to mature stoneware and cobalt sulfate, a water-soluble form, could be brushed on to decorate greenware without requiring a bisque firing. The examples shown above are modern interpretations of 19th-century forms, made by David Farrell of Westmoore Pottery.

During the 1930s, two markets developed for art pottery pitchers -- so-called "tourist pottery," small-to-medium sized pieces turned and fired in quantity for the tourist-shop trade, and small pieces made for the soap-and-candle enterprises, also made in wholesale lots and marketed in gift shops as well as tourist stops. Pitchers in the form of small creamers were easily adaptable to both markets. At right, an example of a small creamer outfitted with scented wax and a wick, then boxed for retail sale -- in this case, by the well-known Carolina Soap & Candle Makers of Southern Pines, North Carolina. On the left, a pair of tourist-pottery creamers. The very small "left-handed" cream pitchers were usually sold in Virginia as "Williamsburg Hand Made Pottery." The larger creamer may have been sold to any one of many tourist shops and resorts, often in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia or the vicinity of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Although the tourist-pottery trade generally called for glossy lead glazes colored with ceramic oxides or "stains," the candle-makers had a preference for matte or semi-matte lead-rutile glazes. These glazes were initially purchased commercially from a firm in New York City. Of course, the potters in the Old North State didn't hesitate to use such glazes on other forms, and lead-rutile mattes were quite popular until the Federal restrictions on lead content eliminated them in the early 1980s. At right, a pitcher by Thurston Cole of C. C. Cole Pottery glazed in a blue lead-rutile matte glaze.

While some Seagrove area potters still produce earthenware art pottery, the
modern era has seen a return of stoneware to dominate the market. Some stoneware is fired at moderate temperatures -- Orton Cone 6 or 7 -- but most of it is cranked up to Cone 10 or Cone 11, exceeding 2400 degrees F. So while the lead-rutile mattes are gone, in their place have come varieties of stoneware art-pottery pitchers -- some wood-fired, some with exotic glazes, some propane-fired in reduction. Shown at left: a tall, elegant, polychrome-glazed pitcher by Benjamin Burns, Great White Oak Pottery in Seagrove, North Carolina; illustrated for perspective beside an M. L. Owens cream pitcher.

Above: Earthenware pitchers from the modern (post-1980) era of Seagrove Pottery; on the left, M. L. Owens Pottery, and on the right, J. B. Cole Pottery (by Linda Potts).

Three decorated stoneware pitchers from Whynot Pottery, located in the community of Whynot near Seagrove, North Carolina.
Two views of a vintage polychrome-glazed pitcher by Thurston Cole, C. C. Cole Pottery. The colored lead glazes in this piece have run and blended to give a unique result to the finished piece. C. C. Cole Pottery workers applied a whitish body glaze, then dribbled bands of color around the body, and finally dipped the top of the piece in another colored glaze.
Above: Four pitchers by Phil Graves of J. B. Cole Pottery. The two in front are from the 1930s, made with Michfield light clay; the two in back are post-WWII, made with Smithfield redware clay.
Two modern-era pitchers glazed in green. Left: made by Vernon Owens, Jugtown Pottery. Right: made by Mark Heywood, Whynot Pottery.Above: Ice-water pitcher with lid, Seagrove Pottery "Crystal Blue" glaze, made and glazed by Walter Auman and marked with the date "1976." Walter formulated Crystal Blue in the early 1970s, following the first imposition of Federal restrictions on lead-glazed pottery. The result was a soft, semi-matte finish, lighter in tone than the lead-rutile matte blue previously used by Seagrove Pottery and C. C. Cole Pottery. At its best, Crystal Blue was a beautiful glaze, but it had some problems -- it was subject to gross crazing and often was porous, which made it unsuitable for tableware. In the 1970s, many buyers of North Carolina
pottery put their purchases into use -- including the author, who had no inkling what "mint" examples would come to be worth! Left: Walter Auman (standing) and Seagrove Pottery apprentice, whose name has escaped me, photographed by your author in July of 1976 in their tent on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., while participating in the Smithsonian Institution Folklife Festival.

A later reformulation of Crystal Blue produced a very similar glaze which produced a variegated semi-glossy finish. Known as "Stone Blue," it is attractive and popular in its own right, although it lacks some of the softness of Crystal Blue. The reduction of the lead oxide content of glazes was typically accomplished by substitution with some boron oxide, which is suitable for firing at earthenware temperatures but is inherently glossy. When further reductions in lead oxide content were mandated in the early 1980s, semi-matte and semi-glossy lead-rutile glazes were no longer practical.

One of the more remarkable glazes produced by J. B. Cole Pottery was "Dove," a temperamental glaze from the 1970s and early 1980s which came out very well on these two pitchers. "Dove" gave varying results from one kilnload to another, sometimes darker, sometimes lighter, sometimes more blue and sometimes more gray. It was used in limited quantities and is relatively scarce.
Two cream pitchers by M. L. Owens. The yellow creamer on the left is inscribed "Owens" in Melvin's hand. The one on the right is from a cream-and-sugar set bearing a paper label attached by a purchaser indicating the origin to be C. C. Cole Pottery. The glaze is consistent with C. C. Cole and the blue creamer may have been glazed and fired there, but it bears the unmistakable "hand" of M. L. Owens -- including the characteristic spout formation and an out-of-round rim having identical placement and degree in both cases, as shown in the inset. Potters often turned wares for other shops; M. L. Owens is known to have made pieces for Jugtown.
Two views of a tall J. B. Cole Pottery wine pitcher made by Phil Graves and glazed in a Bronze-Green finish. There were several iterations of Bronze-Green, which was produced by over-firing aqua or blue-green glazes.
Two small blue pitchers. Left, by General Foister Cole, Sanford, North Carolina. On the right, by Pisgah Forest Pottery, Arden, North Carolina. Pisgah Forest pieces were made with a porcelainous stoneware clay which required a very high finishing temperature; the glaze is nearly always crazed to some extent.Blue stoneware pitchers by Mark Heywood, Whynot Pottery, Seagrove area. Blue is so popular with buyers and thus is produced in such quantities that potters often become sick of looking at it and begin muttering dark threats about its demise.

Long-necked pitchers made by Dorothy Auman at Seagrove Pottery and glazed by Walter Auman. Like C. C. Cole Pottery, Seagrove Pottery made polychrome-glazed pieces but with a different color palette and application pattern. The blue pitcher on the right is from the 1980s and shows the impact of removing lead from the glazes -- the boron oxide content mandates a glossy finish.

NOTE: A longer version of this article with many more pictures is available on the author's Web site -- click HERE to read and view.

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Text and images copyright 2009 by J. R. Henderson. This article was originally published in Backcountry Notes. Reprinted by permission.

Friday, October 9, 2009

NC Art Pottery Rebecca Jugs

By Jay Henderson

The Rebecca jug is an enduringly popular form of North Carolina art pottery. The "Rebecca" got its name from illustrations of the Biblical story of Rebecca at the Well (in Genesis, Chapter 24). The classic shape of the Rebecca is that of an ewer (a vase-shaped water jug) with an elongated, over-arched handle. While single-handled pieces are the norm, there are also large two-handled ewers known as "Double Rebeccas." Right: Joe Owen Rebecca on display at the North Carolina Pottery Center.

Note: click on any image for a larger view

Although not unique to North Carolina art pottery, the Rebecca jug developed a strong association with the Tar Heel State during the 1930s, when many tens of thousands were made for customers, the tourist trade, and resorts. The 1932 J B Cole catalog listed three Rebecca jugs in sizes from 10½" to 17½", while the 1940 catalog lists six Rebeccas ranging from 4½" to a monumental three-footer. Much of the production of Rebeccas was unmarked, even by potters who normally stamped their wares, because these pieces often were moved in wholesale lots.

Left: Rebecca jug by Waymon Cole, 1940s. Identification of vintage Rebeccas can be a challenge because so many of them were unmarked. Nonetheless, there are typical elements which can help to identify the maker. Small, mid-sized, and some large Rebeccas usually have a pedestal base with a rolled bottom edge, a rounded body, a tapered neck, and a rim with a spout, plus the handle. Some larger Rebeccas were made without the pedestal base. Points to observe include the thickness and height of the pedestal, the shape of the body (ovoid, semi-ovoid, or rotund), the length and taper of the neck, the width and flare of the rim, the shape of the spout, and the formation and attachment of the handle.

Right: Double Rebecca attributed to J. B. Cole, 1930s. The potters who made these wares depended on high rates of production for their living. The numbers they turned out are quite remarkable in comparison to modern studio art potteries; C. C. Cole Pottery, for example, produced small wares (honey jugs, cider jugs, Rebeccas, and so on) at the rate of five thousand to ten thousand per week during the peak season. The need to produce such numbers meant that the turners developed routine, characteristic ways to make the pots. For example, in the case of Rebeccas, there are three options for the top handle attachment: on the outside of the rim; on the inside; and straight on. Once a potter established his or her routine, it was followed faithfully to produce many pieces which share common traits.

Left: Rebecca jug by Thurston Cole, C. C. Cole Pottery, 1950s. Glazes offer another means of identifying vintage Rebeccas. A pottery would use the same glazes for Rebecca jugs as it did for other forms, so that becoming familiar with a particular shop's range of glazes and glaze results helps to narrow the possibilities. Certain glazes were used by more than one pottery -- the lead-rutile matte glazes, for example -- but even so there can be differences in the end result. A. R. Cole Pottery fired its red-clay wares to a higher temperature than most others, for example, producing lead-rutile glaze results that are glossy and highly variegated. For another example, C. C. Cole Pottery's polychrome glazes are as familiar on its Rebeccas as on its honey jugs and cider jugs.

Above: Early Rebecca jugs dating to the 1930s. The backswept handle seen on the jug on the far left was used during the early 1930s but was abandoned possibly because it required too much space in the kiln compared to upright and overshot handles.

The Rebecca jugs shown above all are attributed to C. C. Cole Pottery (although I am open to persuasion as to the gray jug on the far right, back row). The Rebeccas on the back row are attributed to Thurston Cole and on the front row to Dorothy Cole Auman.

This image shows the handle attachment (on the outside of the rim) and spout formation typical of C. C. Cole wares. The neck of Rebeccas made by Thurston Cole is thicker than is seen on those made by Dorothy Auman.Rebecca jugs by Joe Owen. Note the short, thick pedestal, ovoid body, thick neck, and moderate rim flare, plus straight-on handle attachment. The overall look of Joe Owen Rebeccas is stout, whether in a small or a large size.

Above: These four Rebeccas are very similar in form, but differ in certain details. The two on the left are from A. R. Cole Pottery; the two on the right are from C. C. Cole Pottery, by Dorothy Auman. There are characteristic differences in the formation of the pedestal, the shape of the body (the A. R. Cole Pottery pieces are more rotund), and the shape of the spout. The Rebecca on the top left was probably made by Neolia Cole.Rebecca jugs glazed in Brown Sugar and Tobacco-spit glazes.
Contemporary Rebecca jugs by Larry Moore, Moore Pots Pottery.
Contemporary Rebeccas by (left) Terry King, (right) Matthew Nance
Vintage C. C. Cole Pottery Rebeccas on display at the North Carolina Pottery Center.

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Text and images copyright 2009 by J. R. Henderson. This article was originally published in Backcountry Notes, Rebecca Jugs . Reprinted by permission.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Brown Sugar" Art Pottery Glazes

by Jay Henderson

North Carolina's vintage art pottery shops usually had a glaze referred to as "Brown Sugar." These rustic-looking glazes were popular with tourists and were in demand by the candle-making operations which purchased large numbers of small wares.

The most distinctive "Brown Sugar" glaze - - one that is widely associated with North Carolina pottery - - is the lead-rutile matte glaze in shades of tan and brown. Ironically, this archetypical North Carolina glaze did not originate there, but was purchased from B. F. Drakenfeld & Co., which was once a major factor in the American ceramics industry. Drakenfeld had its headquarters in New York City and manufacturing facilities in Washington, PA. The company was bought out in 1966 and is now a subsidiary brand of the Ferro Glass & Color Corporation. In its day, Drakenfeld was a major manufacturer of ceramic colorants or "stains." Certain of these were used to color its lead-rutile glazes.

Lead-fluxed glazes fired to moderate earthenware temperatures take on a matte or semi-matte finish if they contain about 4-1/2 to 5 per cent rutile, which is an impure form of titanium oxide. The addition of a colorant or stain to such a glaze gives a mottled tint to the result. Lead-rutile matte glazes with tan-brown or green colorants have a "rustic" look which many buyers found appealing on North Carolina earthenware art pottery. The tan-brown version of this glaze came to be called "Brown Sugar." North Carolina potters being an inventive lot, they soon figured out how to make their own versions of the lead-rutile glazes, and thus how to produce their own "Brown Sugar" variations.

J. B. Cole's Pottery initially purchased its glazes from Ceramic Color And Chemical Mfg. Co., located then as now in New Brighton, PA, near Pittsburgh. These were lead-fluxed frits and as far as I know did not include lead-rutile glazes. When the Ceramic Color glazes developed problems, J. B. Cole purchased equipment and materials and thereafter made its own fritted lead glazes; this was some time in the early 1950s.

The "Brown Sugar" glaze produced by J. B. Cole Pottery after World War II was a double-dip glaze -- the piece was first dipped in white and then in a dark brown glaze. Because the white glaze had a different composition than the colored J. B. Cole glazes, the two were somewhat incompatible and usually would separate during the firing process, forming (ideally) an attractive multi-hued finish in tones of cream, brown, and brass. The process was difficult to control and sometimes the finished piece was a dark brown. If the glazes melded together for some reason, the result was a mustard yellow-brown.

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Above: Two brown sugar jugs; on the left, by M. L. Owens (stamped on bottom); on the right, by Waymon Cole. The M. L. Owens jug shows a typical glaze result while the Cole jug is the dark version of its brown-over-white glaze.Three brown-sugar glazed Rebecca jugs. Rebeccas were very popular with tourists and were produced by many of the North Carolina art potteries.

Three brown sugar pieces from Seagrove Pottery. The two light-toned pieces on the left are from the mid-1970s; the jug is dated 1976 and was made by an apprentice whose name now escapes me. The middle piece, turned by Dorothy Auman and glazed by Walter Auman, shows a typical soft, semi-matte lead rutile glaze from the 1970s following the first reformulation to reduce lead content. The coffeepot on the right is from the early 1980s, after a further Federally-mandated reduction in lead content resulted in shinier lead-rutile glazes.

Above: These small pieces were turned for the candle-maker trade. Several concerns bought small wares in wholesale volumes, then filled them with candlewax and a wick for retail sale. This cream-and-sugar pair was made by M. L. Owens for the Tarheel Candle Co. of Durham, N.C. The pieces show a lead-rutile glaze fired to moderate earthenware temperatures. Right: This vase by A. R. Cole demonstrates another result of lead-rutile glazing. A. R. Cole fired his wares hotter than other earthenware potters, which resulted in a high-gloss finish. The rutile formed microcrystals in the surface of the glaze which "chained" together to form the randomized light-colored patterns as the glaze cooled. This use of lead-rutile glazes could produce striking, variegated patterns.

Another pair of brown-sugar jugs. The "little brown jug" notion was appealing to customers. The jug on the left is not identified; the one on the right is from Brown's Pottery in Arden, N.C.

Above: Two pitchers from J. B. Cole pottery showing the brown-over-white glaze. This glaze combination was quite variable and produced interesting multi-hued pieces. Right: J. B. Cole Pottery shadow lantern showing well-developed hues of brass, cream, and brown. The cut-outs in the shadow lantern help to bring about the variegated result.

A pair of small candlesticks and a bud vase glazed in the J. B. Cole brown-over-white glaze combination. These pieces show the attractive mottling which sometimes develops with this version of brown sugar.

J. B. Cole lidded pot in brown-over-white glaze. Another example of the variability of this glaze combination, showing a stippled effect on the sides, light-and-dark rings on the lid, and dark brown on the handle and edges where the glaze thinned during firing.

Above: Three small brown sugar pieces. The candlestick on the left is marked "Seagrove." The other two are believed to be C. C. Cole, the pitcher by Thurston Cole and the two-handled bud vase by Dorothy Auman. Right: This 19-inch-tall Rebecca jug is by Thurston Cole of C. C. Cole Pottery and the particular version of brown sugar glaze dates it to the 1950s. Although C. C. Cole's operation is best known for its small tourist-pottery wares, large pieces were made as well.

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Text and images copyright 2009 by J. R. Henderson. This article was originally published in Backcountry Notes, North Carolina "Brown Sugar" Art Pottery Glazes. Reprinted by permission.