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Early American Pottery

Updated on March 7, 2018
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Ancient art and architecture isn't only for historians, but for people like us who’ve always been interested in anything olden and periodic.

The earliest American ceramics of interest was made in the State of Pennsylvania in the mid-eighteenth century. Though useful pottery objects required for everyday use were produced in all the colonies formed in the 17th century by the early settlers, there was no pottery with any decorative or artistic value that was made. The ceramic objects produced were always for utilitarian purposes.

American Pottery Worts
American Pottery Worts | Source

18th Century Pottery Art in America

Pottery and other ceramics with decorative value were initially produced in America by the Germans in the mid-18th century. This ceramic ware or slip had decorations of crudely scratched carvings and was called sgraffito ware.

Sgraffito refers to a method of decorating pottery (or any other) surface with scratch-like patterns which then exposes colour finishes beneath the top layer. There are variations of this Early American ceramic art where the deep scratches are coloured with contrasting or enhancing colours.

The main body colours were cream, red and brown and the slip was blue, green and pink. The result is the colours of the main body showing through the 'ornamental' carved scratches on the slip body.

Subjects of the ‘Ornamental' Motifs

Scratched characters and subjects include strange sketches of animals, flowers and humans, with dates produced, names and other types of inscriptions applied on the ceramics surface. The potters in Pennsylvania also produced some ceramic ware with a marbleized finish.

In Massachusetts and Connecticut ceramic ware was produced at a time when the practicality of the object as well as its decorative value was beginning to be given a great deal of consideration. It was a time when Americans began to appreciate the art of beautifully formed and finished ceramic ware.

Why America's Development of Decorative Pottery Stalled

Importations of fine earthenware and porcelain from England, both before and after the Revolution; hampered the full development of ceramic production in America. The beauty of the imported ceramics, coupled with their popularity often made the American potters copy them and try to disguise their origins by knowingly omitting their own stamped names or factory inscription marks.

Also, French and Oriental productions that were readily available on the market didn't help much, as large quantities of transfer-printed ceramic wares from England flooded the ceramic art market, after the American Revolution. These are the major reasons that affected ceramic art development as it greatly affected the production and capital of the American potters.

19th Century Ushered in Improvements in Pottery Production

Around the third quarter of the 18th century, many English potters trained by some of the bespoke English pottery firms migrated to America, bringing with them the technical training and knowledge they had acquired in England.

This prompted the American potters to attempt to produce ceramic art of a better quality than was previously produced. From this period and continuing into the 19th century, there was a corresponding improvement in the style and quality of American ceramics.

By the turn of the century, the ceramic production industry had expanded to virtually every city of note at the time, across America.

The Most Sought After Pottery Works

The most sought after American ceramics were terra-cotta objects and salt-glazed stoneware made from kaolin which was found in large quantities in Bennington, Vermont. The factory also produced copies of English cream ware which were ceramic objects with a cream form, coloured by metal oxides dabbed on the surfaces with a sponge, creating a tortoiseshell effect.

Designs were richly and brilliantly glazed and were generally heavy and quaint, with many of them humorous in appearance.

The Bennington factory reached its zenith between 1847 and 1857, and their production line consisted of both ornamental art and utilitarian objects.

The First True American Porcelain

The first authentic American porcelain ceramics was produced in Jersey City, New Jersey in the early 19th century while simultaneously in Philadelphia an ambitious porcelain production factory was also operating.

Their porcelain wares were gilded with banding, and were painted with sprays of flowers, styles that were influenced and inspired by Rockingham of England. The two factories also copied the French Empire forms.

Thereafter, porcelain and earthenware ceramics were produced in Baltimore, Maryland; Kaolin, South Carolina; East Liverpool, Ohio; Trenton and South Amboy both in New Jersey; and many other places across the US.

Most of their imitated porcelain products were poorly made and artistically crude, with most of them made for commercial use.

By the end of the 19th century, America's production of ceramic art declined and there was little, if any, of their pottery that was fit to be classified as decorative pottery art.

© 2011 artsofthetimes


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      Arlene V. Poma 6 years ago

      Wow! This Hub is loaded with information, so I bookmarked it for reference. I am familiar with the art potter from Zanesville, Ohio, and that's about it. I really enjoyed this Hub and the videos. Voted up!

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      jenubouka 6 years ago

      Jersey would be the last place I would of thought to have produced porcelain! I love terra-cotta, I had a whole dish set that was made out of it.

      Great history lesson on art thank you!