Friday, August 24, 2012

1811-1815 and Pennsylvania German Redware

1811-1815 blogging, part 2 of 5
Pennsylvania German Redware

In these long breaks between the signature 21 Essays series, I relax by considering possibilities for future series.  I spin the roulette wheel to pick a year (or set of years) and then brainstorm on some potential essay topics.  This time the wheel spins, gradually slows, then clicks to a stop, pointing at:  1811-1815. 

So here’s my second 1811-1815 series possibility:  21 essays on Pennsylvania German redware.

Dish made by Thomas Vickers and Son, West Whiteland
Township, Pennsylvania, c. 1805-1822.  Redware,
lead glaze, slip decoration.  Diameter:  7 1/16 inches.
From the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Pennsylvania German redware is beautiful.  German immigrants brought their pottery-making know-how with them when they crossed the Atlantic, and they found good clay here to continue to refine their craftsmanship.  They would frequently decorate it with slips (white liquid clay) or scratch designs through the glazing, a technique called sgraffitto.  The dominant color was red, the secondary color was yellow, and greens and other colors could be used for additional decoration.

Most of the redware was utilitarian.  The clay made handsome plates—often the plain ones are as ruggedly striking in appearance as the more ornately designed ones.  In addition, redware was used for beakers, bottles, pitchers, platters, pie plates, jars, and flower pots.  In a more relaxed vein, it made delightful children’s toys.

This period of 1811 to 1815 was a high point for Pennsylvania’s redware potters.  The best surviving pieces show an art that’s reached a high level of craftsmanship but hasn’t settled into either routine designs or baroque experimentation.  Nowadays, fine pieces of antique redware can fetch high prices at auction.  It’s come into vogue.  And modern potters continue to practice the craft, now using glazes without the original lead formula that you find on the old pieces (don’t eat off the antiques!).

My favorite collections of Pennsylvania German redware are on permanent exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Mercer Museum (Doylestown, PA).  I’m thinking that for a 21 Essays series I could simply pick out 21 favorite items from one of these collections and write an essay apiece.  It’s time to give these anonymous craftsmen their due.

Beaker:  Made in Montgomery
County, PA.  Artist/maker:
Unknown.  1800-1820.
From the collection of the
Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Over the next three days, I’ll be proposing some more 1811-1815 ideas (with no promises that I’ll necessarily be getting to any of them…).  But I’m wide open to other suggestions.  Any ideas for 1811-1815 places, books, poems, songs, paintings, or other cultural artifacts that might inspire a good 21 Essays series?

© 2012 Lee Price

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