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Redware
America's Folk Art Pottery
by Lissa & Dick Smith

Redware embodies an enduring charm. From its basic clay tones to hand-painted adornments, the tableware, vessels, vases, and miniatures shown will delight. Hundreds of pieces are illustrated in full color, with accurate values for this increasingly popular art form. Several types of glazes are shown, and the pieces are presented in chronological sequence, spanning the 18th and 19th centuries.

                                   
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LATEST ANTIQUES ARTICLE______________________________

The Simplicity of American Colonial Redware
by Bob Brooke

 

Redware was the first pottery made in the American colonies. Potters made it from local red clay. Early American colonists produced pottery mostly for their own use. Without kilns that could produce high-firing temperatures, they typically produced low-fire earthenware

From a technical standpoint, redware is the overall term applied to all clays which have a porosity above 5 percent when fired. Simply put, the fired clay must be within 5 percent of being wholly watertight, or vitrified. Redware cannot be made completely watertight because of its porosity—much like clay flower pots—so potters had to glaze their wares to increase their usefulness.

In the majority of cases the "red" is the natural reddish-brown of the fired clay, the same sort of color as in terracotta or red brick. The color to which clay turns when fired varies considerably with its makeup and the firing conditions. The colors of redware actually range from reds to browns to yellows, blacks, greys, and whites.

During the 17th to 19th centuries, European potters produced unglazed stoneware, mostly for teapots, jugs and mugs. Colonists had to import these wares are great expense. American redware, on the other hand, was inexpensive and used for a wide variety of kitchen and dining functions, as well as objects such as chamber pots.

Utilitarian items such as crocks, chamber pots, butter pots and one- or two-handled jugs were the most common items produced. Not always of the best quality, pieces were crude and coarse in appearance, with minimal glazing—often on half the container—and rusty orange to dark brown clay or glaze colors. Because imported ceramics were expensive, colonists had to tolerate less-than-perfect homemade wares.

Historians believe one of the reasons for the poor quality early American redware was that, at least in rural areas, potters worked two jobs, farming and pottery. Rural areas desperately needed pottery for the various forms of housekeeping, and many farmers took to supplying the needs of their neighbors in their leisure hours. The rigors of farm life certainly couldn’t have been conducive to regularity or uniformity of pottery production. And, certainly, these rural potters were unlikely to have trained in one of the great pottery centers of Europe. In fact, many may have been self-taught.

Though American redware usually had a reddish body, whether glazed or not, potters often gave it a white or other glaze, either tin-glazed or lead-glazed. Depending on the locality, this was the basic utilitarian pottery of Colonial America. It was often complemented by imported or American stoneware for large vessels where the added strength was useful.

Besides producing plainer wares for everyday use, Colonial potters also created fancy platters and jugs that were glazed, often in yellowish tones, and painted with bold folk art designs. This practice continued well into the 19th century. But these special decorated pieces were rather uncommon. Unlike everyday redware, potters stamped many of these fancy pieces with dates and signatures.

Making Colonial Redware
The technique used by Colonial potters was rather simple. They pressed soft clay over a mold which formed the shape of the vessel. Then they cut a notched rim with a hand-held, wooden or metal coggle, a wheel designed for making decorative impressions, similar to a pie crust crimper. Some Colonial potters often decorated the interior of their pieces with a liquid white clay that they poured into the vessels. To create a watertight surface and still keeping the red color, they coated the interior of their pieces with a clear, lead glaze, then fired them.

Potters employed semi-liquid clay or slip both as a wash before firing and as a decoration, forming patterns, names, or sayings on the exterior. Sgraffito was a technique of cutting away of the surface layer to reveal a different base color. Germans in Pennsylvania made decorated pottery from the mid-18th to the 19th century, using techniques from their homeland in the Rhineland. Using local yellow clay, they produced sgraffito and slip pottery.

Generally, Germans influenced pottery in the northern states while English, Germans, and Africans, mostly working as slaves, created pottery in the South. New England potters made redware for household use from the 1770s to the mid-19th century. Connecticut became famous for bean pots, and Vermont became known for crude pottery figures of cows, dogs and lions from Bennington, and mottled pottery with a brown glaze from Bennington and Burlington.

Early Southern potters used English techniques to make their wares. Shapes were more ovoid, with rounded shoulders. Shapes became more generally rounded, then straighter. Alkaline and slip glazing were common.

Redware is distinctly American. It developed out of necessity, local materials, and ingenuity. Today, it represents an era in the early formation of the United States.



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