On Sunday, April 14, at 2:30pm, Luke and I will be giving a new talk, Excellent Ware: The Harrisburg Stoneware Potters and Their Contemporaries, at the Historical Society of Dauphin County in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Afterwards we will be holding an appraisal event, during which we will evaluate attendees’ stoneware and redware. Admission is by donation at the door, but is free to members. The HSDC will also be charging a small fee for appraisals to help support their important organization. For more information, please visit the HSDC website, or call 717-233-3462.
On Saturday, April 27, at 2pm, Mark and I will again be delivering our lecture, Manhattan Stoneware, 1795-1820, as a special program during the Westchester Glass Show in Old Greenwich, Connecticut (at the Greenwich Civic Center). A well-respected event, the Westchester Glass Show is for the very first time encouraging exhibitors to offer ceramics for sale, as well, so this should be a fun time for stoneware collectors. Our talk will be essentially the same one we gave at the Gunn Memorial Library and Museum back in October, so if you missed that event, this is an opportunity to get an incisive look at the big three Manhattan stoneware makers–Clarkson Crolius, John Remmey III and Thomas Commeraw–as well as the former Manhattan potter who completely revolutionized Mid-Atlantic stoneware production–Henry Remmey, Sr. Our talk is free with admission to the show ($7). Here’s a link to a show circular with the important details.
We have really enjoyed sharing our love of this great American art form with you, and look forward to doing so many times this year!
It may go without saying that Thomas Commeraw is my favorite potter, and I count some of my discoveries about his life–including the day I figured out he was a free black man–as high points of my research life. As far as Dave is concerned, I remember well the day my family and I went to Winterthur for their Dave exhibit back in 2000, and I was bowled over by the massive vessels and, particularly, the couplets. I being a writing major at JHU–and one particularly interested in formal poetry–the synthesis of pottery and poetry in these objects crafted by an enslaved human being really did speak to me.The number of African Americans–whether free or enslaved–actually throwing and decorating salt-glazed stoneware during Commeraw’s day (and beyond, for that matter) was apparently a pretty low one. I have seen it claimed that a hidden workforce of enslaved potters was responsible for huge numbers of the vessels that have come down to us, but based on any serious study of the American stoneware industry, this was quite clearly not the case. While free blacks and, where applicable, slaves were certainly employed in many shops, it seems these people were most often performing more menial tasks involved with running a pottery: general odd jobs around the shop, disposing of waste, transporting ware, handling clay, making bricks, or any number of tasks that did not require the intense skill of wheel throwing attained only through long-term training. Commeraw is remarkable in many ways, but purely as an American stoneware potter, he was a true master whom we are able to document as an African American–and one who left behind a huge body of work.
Dave, of course, was not making blue-decorated, salt-glazed stoneware, but was instead working in alkaline glazes in the Southern American tradition. While in the Edgefield District Dave lived under a true slave society–a place where an enslaved workforce was the order of things–he was likewise set apart as a true master of his craft, and one whose work was extremely deft–to be celebrated apart from his extraordinary life story.These were two very different men, in terms of freedom status, socio-economic status, level of education, and living environment. Their chosen mediums, through which their names were literally forever set in stone, have elevated both to a level of recognition never to be achieved by thousands of others whose work was destined from the outset to decay–or whose products were deemed unworthy of a signature. But it was not this good fortune alone by which we know their names today–it was their vast skill, as well as their ability to persevere and–to the extent possible–break through the strictures of a society that had stacked the deck against them. Deft on the wheel and a gifted businessman, Thomas Commeraw went from an impoverished young man in New York’s slave society to a businessman known throughout the entire country, in direct competition with prominent whites like Clarkson Crolius. Living under a brutal slave system, Dave found his way to literacy and leveraged what was clearly a God-given talent to literally make his mark on the history of American material culture; in a place where reading and writing were not the norm for someone like Dave, he managed to throw beautiful pots and inscribe them with songs that transcended his circumstances.
This is what I find most remarkable about people like Commeraw and Dave. They both happened to share the same skin color, but perseverance and dignity under incredibly difficult circumstances are character traits human beings the world over–regardless of ethnicity or background–can realize in their own lives. The names “Commeraw” and “Dave,” stamped and carved into stoneware clay a very long time ago, are persistent, permanent reminders of this.
Inferior to None: The Remmeys, First Family of American Stoneware
This will be the first true comprehensive look at the most important family in the history of American stoneware production–beginning in eighteenth-century Manhattan and ending in twentieth-century Philadelphia. This titanic family tree of stoneware potters includes the John Remmeys of New York City; Henry Remmey in Baltimore; Henry Remmey, Jr. in Philadelphia; Enoch Burnett (son-in-law of Henry Remmey) in Washington, D.C.; and Richard C. Remmey in Philadelphia–and we will discuss all of these potters and others in what we hope will be an interesting presentation.
You do not need to register to attend the lecture. Our auction preview opens at 1pm on Friday, March 1, and we will begin the presentation at 2pm in our main gallery space. If you have any questions, etc, please feel free to contact us. We are all looking forward to what we hope will be an exciting weekend of American stoneware!
Levi Mitchell Boyer was born November 17, 1842 in Ashland Township (Clarion County) in northwestern Pennsylvania. At the young age of 18, following the outbreak of the Civil War, he volunteered for service in the 78th Pennsylvania Infantry and began a tour of duty in the South, during which he saw much action–including at the important Battles of Stone River, Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge. At the end of May, 1864, he was wounded at the Battle of New Hope Church, Georgia, and received his discharge along with other seasoned veterans of the 78th in November of that year.Lucky to have survived his three years’ worth of fighting, Boyer entered the ministry, married his wife, Mary, and by 1870 was living in Burnside, Clearfield County, Pennsylvania–not far from Punxsutawney. By 1880, the couple, along with their children, had moved to Somerset, just down the road from Johnstown, and we initially believed that it was here that Boyer resided when the Swank pottery made him his bank. However, I have since learned that Boyer did, indeed, pastor the First Evangelical Church of Johnstown from around the early to late 1870′s, and it was clearly during his tenure there that the local pottery bestowed him with a gift. What “710″ means, as inscribed alongside his name, is a mystery, but probably refers to something church-related.
Boyer held many high-level positions within the Evangelical Church throughout his life, both in western Pennsylvania and Ohio, where he would eventually settle. He seems to have moved around a lot during his tour of Christian duty in Pennsylvania, but would move to Canton, Ohio, in the early 1890′s, basically residing there until his death on November 18, 1931, at the age of 89.
It is unusual that we are able to gather this much information about a name we find inscribed on a piece of stoneware, and I think it is safe to say that Reverend Boyer’s bank is one of the more important examples of Johnstown pottery to surface in some time.
A Note about Sources: While I used various sources for this brief article, I would particularly like to credit this very helpful entry on findagrave.com.
While I could provide a detailed run-down of the various census and other records that help flesh out Boyer’s life, the following paragraphs taken from a 1977 genealogy book basically do better than I could with only dry census data. While there is certainly a chance that some of this is at least slightly inaccurate, this is a remarkably detailed narrative of the life of a man who, when still apparently an apprentice, threw a pot that still interests us 150+ years later:
Isaac [Boyer] was the son of Martin Sr. and Hoover Boyer, and was [born December 5, 1828] in Adams County, Pa. … [His parents] lived and died [there]. [The] family used to go to Chesapeake Bay to gather shellfish. The father [died] in 1853 and the mother [circa] 1860, and the family drifted westward. [Note: I believe the correct date for the father's death is 1833.] Isaac’s brother, Jacob, was the first to come to Iowa. He came with [two associates], bringing a load of liquor on a flatboat to New Orleans, then up the Mississippi and the Des Moines River to Farmington. He was in Indianapolis … from 1832-1842, and when he came to Iowa purchased 160 [acres] of land in … Henry Twp. of Van Buren County … . He married … and remained on the farm where [he and his wife] reared five children. … Isaac, the younger brother, had lived with a cousin, John Boyer, until he was 18 years old. He was then bound out for three years to learn the pottery trade. It was difficult to make a choice between pottery and carpentry, but his aversion to climbing on buildings caused him to complete the pottery apprenticeship. Training completed, he traveled from his Pennsylvania home with a wagon train bound for northern Illinois. He came on a steamboat down the Mississipi to Keokuk, and up the Des Moines River to Vernon [Van Buren County, Iowa], where his brother, Jacob, lived just west of the settlement. He obtained work at the Vernon pottery shop.
[Isaac married his wife, Sydney Harryman, on October 27, 1853 at her home in Van Buren County.] [The couple] lived in Vernon until 1839 [Note: this should read 1859, I believe--certainly not 1839] and [Isaac] continued to work in the pottery shop. He then bought a farm three miles west of Vernon … to which they moved. … In 1864 they bought the Harryman family farm from the heirs. They remained on the farm until 1893 when they moved to Keosauqua where he [died January 23, 1903].
(The above comes from Elijah Harryman … by Ethel Irene Harryman, 1977.)Boyer’s bowl, then, would have been made while he was a couple of years into his apprenticeship in Adams County. Almost all of the records I have seen for Boyer list him as a “farmer,” and this was quite common for American redware potters–a subject I take up in an article I wrote last year about Philip Sipe of Lewisberry, Pennsylvania. Notice also that Boyer’s life is quite similar to that of Pennsylvania potter Adam Ownhouse, who crafted the outstanding redware inkstand we sold in March 2011 (and also a bird whistle in the collection of the Met, I recently learned)–and then, too, left for Iowa.
Boyer’s “Sager Bowl” stands as a remarkable example to which we can attach rare biographical data–and one that, unlike the many anonymous pots of people we will likely never identify as anything more than “farmers,” we can now firmly attribute as a rare signed example of beloved Adams County, Pennsylvania, redware.
It recently came to my attention that The Chipstone Foundation has posted Luke’s important article, Henry Remmey & Son, Late of New York, online for free reading. That article appeared in the 2004 edition of Ceramics in America (published by Chipstone), and was the first to not only flesh out the “lost years” of a man who was arguably America’s greatest stoneware potter, but the first to reveal the long-mysterious origin of “H. MYERS” stoneware. Luke managed to correct a long-standing misconception with his research–one that I am reminded of whenever I see, on now-very-rare occasions, someone label an “H. MYERS” pot as a product of Philadelphia. Having spent many an afternoon with Luke down at the Maryland Historical Society and at the State Archives in Annapolis, the publication of this article was very gratifying for me, and I think it is remarkable that he was able to contribute one of the more important articles published on American stoneware in the last few decades, when he was still in his early twenties.
This article is a comprehensive look at Henry Remmey’s years in Baltimore. I know it is the nature of the passage of time, but I am always amazed whenever–on a trip to Little Italy or elsewhere nearby–we drive by the federal housing project that now occupies the site of a place where some of my favorite pieces of American art were crafted. When you click on the link to read it (below), you will see one image on the left-hand side of the article. These images (with accompanying captions) can be clicked through via the arrow beneath the image.
I am also including, for those who have not seen it or would like to revisit it, Luke’s excellent overview article on Baltimore stoneware, which appeared in Antiques & Fine Art in 2006. This, again, served to educate everyone on what was actually made in Baltimore: the long-standing misconception in this case being that the central figure in Baltimore stoneware production was Peter Herrmann (because he was virtually the only one, later on, who marked his work), and that besides the ubiquitous “clover” designs, Baltimore had very little to offer in the way of stoneware. This was, of course, completely wrong, and Baltimore was one of the chief centers of stoneware production in the entire country, with many prolific artisans churning out their ware.
Henry Remmey & Son, Late of New York: A Rediscovery of a Master Potter’s Lost Years by Luke Zipp (originally published in Ceramics in America, 2004)
Baltimore Stoneware by Luke Zipp (originally published in Antiques & Fine Art, Summer 2006)
Finally, because it is such a good resource on what is actually “out there” in terms of Baltimore pieces, here’s a link to our Baltimore stoneware highlights. This is just a fraction of the Baltimore pottery we’ve sold over the past several years, but this gives a great idea of what the best pieces look like:
I am very excited to be able to discuss Henry Remmey, Sr.–one of my very favorite potters–alongside Thomas Commeraw and others on October 13 at the Gunn Museum in Washington, CT. You can read more about Mark’s and my lecture there by clicking here.
Mark and I will be appearing at the Gunn Historical Museum in Washington, Connecticut, on Saturday, October 13, at 10 am to give a lecture on Manhattan Stoneware, 1795-1820, with a free appraisal event immediately following. This program is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and registration is required to attend. Please give the Gunn Museum a call at 860-868-7756 to register. Here is an “official” synopsis:
In 1795, four of the most important stoneware potters in American history were all working in lower Manhattan, around a place called “Potter’s Hill.” In 1820, two were still there, two had moved on: one to Baltimore–where he took the American stoneware craft to what could be called its zenith–and one to the west coast of Africa. The story of these potters during that quarter of a century and beyond is amongst the most interesting in the history of the American stoneware craft. This lecture will discuss the life and work of Clarkson Crolius, John Remmey III, Henry Remmey, and Thomas W. Commeraw–the latter a free African American potter who worked on Manhattan’s lower east side.
Brandt and Mark Zipp are principals in Crocker Farm, Inc., the nation’s leading auction house of American stoneware and redware pottery, located in Maryland. Their research and writings are consistent contributions to the study of American utilitarian ceramics. The book Brandt is authoring on Thomas W. Commeraw is one of the most anticipated works to be published on the topic of American stoneware.
Though the work of the early Manhattan potters was some of the first American stoneware to be studied and collected, this lecture will present their work from a fresh perspective, with a lot of “new” material. Afterwards, we will be happy to evaluate / provide verbal appraisals of attendees’ stoneware and redware. If you’re not too far from Washington, CT, we hope you can join us for what we hope will be an interesting day!