Robert Hunter

The Rabbit Hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.

—Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

Those who are engaged in any kind of scholarly research are all too familiar with Alice’s tumble. For students of ceramics history, there are few straight paths to the past, with twists and turns appearing at the most unexpected times. In this age of social media and insatiable search engines, one can begin a seemingly simple trip at the touch of one or two keystrokes that may quickly turn into a mind-bending romp through a ceramic wonderland. The articles for the 2019 volume of Ceramics in America all share aspects of a metaphorical journey through the looking glass, reflecting insights and revelations that took serendipitous detours down unexpected wells.

Archaeology remains the catalyst for new ceramic discoveries; each and every shovelful of dirt that gets excavated has the potential to rewrite history. In the first article, archaeologist-turned-curator Deborah Miller has sorted through the contents of Philadelphia’s historic urban privies—“twenty-foot-deep holes chock-a-block with tens of thousands of artifacts.” In her submission, “The Search for the Green-Glaze Potter of Philadelphia,” she reveals the secrets of a bright-green glazed earthenware that has long puzzled researchers familiar with Philadelphia’s early-nineteenth-century ceramics landscape. Using a combination of archaeologically retrieved fragments, extant examples from museum collections, and wide-ranging documentary sources, Miller tells us the story of entrepreneur David Seixas’s Philadelphia ceramics factory that produced a sophisticated, white-bodied ware virtually indistinguishable from the imported wares of Staffordshire. This highly important article not only provides the documentation of a previously unknown American ceramic type, it also stands as an example of how much is yet to be learned from the extensive potteries of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Philadelphia.

Two articles published in the 2016 Ceramics in America introduced another Philadelphia ceramic discovery, the first documentation of the American production of hard-paste porcelain or true Chinese-type porcelain with an aluminous-silicic paste and an essentially lead-free, high-temperature glaze. The discovery and analysis of an undecorated porcelain punch bowl from a privy on the site of the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia was met with great fanfare, as well as a degree of skepticism from America’s ceramics cognoscenti. The plot thickens with the identification and analysis of three additional hard-paste porcelain objects with aluminous silicic bodies also excavated in Philadelphia—a blue painted teapot, an undecorated teabowl, and another smaller, undecorated punch bowl. The team-written article, “Geochemistry of 18th-Century Hybrid Hard-Paste and True Porcelain Artifacts Excavated in Philadelphia,” by Victor Owen, Evan Owen, John Greenough, Deborah Miller, Brandon Boucher, and me, does not fully answer the question of who made these porcelains but suggests with some certainty that they were made in Philadelphia in the decade before the start of the American Revolution. In addition to those known men engaged in porcelain production—Gousse Bonnin and George Anthony Morris at the American China Manufactory, and Philadelphian ceramicist Andrew Duché—a new name is introduced. Compelling evidence suggests that Alexander Bartram, a Scottish merchant and entrepreneur, may also have been at the vanguard of Philadelphia porcelain experimentation with the production of “Pennsylvania penciled tea pots, bowls and sugar dishes.” Much work remains, however, to fully understand the history of this formative American enterprise.

The next article, by Chinese porcelain expert Ron Fuchs, literally begins at the bottom of an early-seventeenth-century well found and excavated in the historic settlement of Jamestown, Virginia. His article, “One of the Earliest Pieces of Chinese Porcelain in Virginia,” describes a blue-and-white dish that might be one of the first examples of Chinese porcelain to have reached what is now the United States of America. Made between about 1573 and 1600 and produced in vast quantities, “kraak porcelain” was designed primarily for export to Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Yet the dish was discarded in the frontier settlement of Jamestown, half a world away from its Chinese origin. It was found among the many other treasures contained in the well, which was sealed by 1617. Beautifully decorated with Chinese elements that are symbolically intertwined with that ancient culture, the dish attests to a global network linked by iconography and commerce, not too different from our modern world.

Each and every social media post has the potential to open new portals to subjects previously unimagined. For me, it was a late-night photograph that popped up on my Facebook feed of a group of American stoneware objects that included a jug made around 1800 in the Manhattan potteries. The jug featured a remarkable incised profile portrait of a Native American male, making it one of the earliest of such depictions on American stoneware. The identification of the individual, however, was complicated by the distinctive beard he was wearing. The ensuing research took me on a journey through ethnographies from Native American facial hair to the social history of Native American portraiture. These tangential encounters are presented in my article “A Manhattan-Made Native American Portrait Jug” along with my interpretation of the portrait.

Collectors of American stoneware have long been aware of the distinctive products made in the late eighteenth century by potters in Boston and Charlestown, Massachusetts, although a fair amount of confusion surrounded attributions and the chronology of the stoneware products. In her article “Eighteenth-Century Boston Stoneware: Appealing to a Local Market,” Lorraine German brings clarity to the history of these wares and more specifically examines the role of William Little, a wealthy Boston merchant who financed and brilliantly marketed the American-made products to his customers. She argues that Little was the pivotal force behind the success of the potter Jonathan Fenton and later Frederick Carpenter in developing attractive and competitive stoneware for Boston-area consumers. In doing so, she identifies and illustrates six impressed designs used by Fenton at his Lynn Street pottery, a study that will be welcomed by collectors and scholars alike.

In addition to her own article, Lorraine German brought to our attention unpublished material related to another Boston-area potworks in Charlestown, the factory of Barnabas Edmands and his brother-in-law, William Boroughs, which was established in 1812. This documentation includes a remarkable hand-written poem by Benjamin Edmands, Barnabas’s son, along with a watercolor rendering of the factory environs as they must have appeared circa 1840. The poem, “The Picture of the Old Pottery,” transcribed by Lorraine, is presented here in a short entry. We thank Dr. Nicholas P. Bruno, the owner of these documents, for allowing their publication in this year’s journal, and especially for allowing us to use the watercolor as the endpapers.

Period images of America’s potteries are nonexistent for the eighteenth century and much of the nineteenth century. We have to rely on archaeological findings to understand the structures and layout of most of the early American potteries. For those who are faced with interpreting archaeological site maps, a reconstructive drawing trumps all other forms of data presentation. Two such reconstructions are presented in the article “Visualizing the Stoneware Potteries of William Rogers of Yorktown and Abner Landrum of Pottersville” by Oliver Mueller-Heubach and me. The first site is that of the workshops and kilns of William Rogers of Yorktown, Virginia (ca. 1720–1745), where America’s first successful salt-glazed stoneware was produced. The conjectural drawing by historian Cary Carson breathes life into the workshops, the kilns, clay processing, packing, storage, and other work areas. The second site is that of Pottersville in Edgefield, South Carolina, where Abner Landrum also produced stoneware but with an alkaline glaze, and he was certainly the first in the American South to do so on a large scale. The reconstruction by Mueller-Heubach is based on research undertaken by archaeologists from the University of Illinois and illustrates, for the first time, the massive size and complexity of the 105-foot-long Landrum kiln.

The 2019 journal concludes with two articles on clay tobacco pipes made in the American context between 1640 and 1660, highlighting the pipe maker’s art and the multicultural context of their manufacture and use. The first article, “Creolization of the Northeastern Woodland American Indian Tobacco Pipe,” was collaboratively written by Taft Kiser and Al Luckenbach. The second, “Making Pipes: Experiments to Learn Things We Don’t Know We Don’t Know,” was written by Taft Kiser and Al Luckenbach with the addition of photographer Brian Palmer. Kiser and Luckenbach, who have previously written on the topic for the journal, update us on the latest thinking for “arguably the most studied colonial artifact type in the New World.” Of special note is the illustrated exploration of the techniques behind the making of these pipes, “recognized as the earliest surviving examples of folk art in the Chesapeake region.” The exercise of making, while not definitive, provides some important insights on production and may help better characterize the products of the known terracotta pipe manufacturers.

I am delighted with the substantive contribution that the 2019 Ceramics in America will make to the field. The depth and breadth of the articles attest to a level of scholarship that bodes well for the future. The year was particularly challenging for me because of the death of my mother, Ruth Daniel Hunter, at age ninety-one. I dedicate this volume to her, with gratitude for encouraging me from my earliest days to be curious, to pick up broken bits of pottery and glass from the ground, and even to dig a hole just to see where it goes.

Ceramics in America 2019