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.