By Mark Zipp | January 27, 2010
An important large-sized redware dog by the Bell family will cross the block in our January 30th auction of the William Kelly Young collection. Measuring 8 3/4″ long by 8 5/8″ tall, the figure is one of a small number of this size known to have been produced by members of the Bell family in Strasburg, VA and Waynesboro, PA. The standing pose and robust body form, finished with a curled tail and large flattened ears, are characteristic of the Bells’ work. Examples of this general style by various members of the Bell family are documented in The Shenandoah Pottery by Alvin H. Rice and John Baer Stoudt, Folk Pottery of the Shenandoah Valley by William Wiltshire, III, and The Pottery of the Shenandoah Valley Region
by H.E. Comstock. These pieces include a few by John Bell and his son, Charles Frederick Bell, of Waynesboro, a pair by Samuel Bell of Strasburg, which descended to his son, Ashby, and a pair by Samuel’s son, Charles Forrest Bell, now in the Henry Ford Museum. An oustanding punch-decorated dog with monkey rider, attributed to one of Samuel’s sons, also bears similarities in form and size. Interestingly, the dog selling in our January 30th auction is pictured on p. 264 of The Shenandoah Pottery, catalog-numbered 157, indicating that it was collected by Alvin Rice in the Shenandoah Valley prior to 1929. The damage visible in the photo, including an area where a basket was once connected to its neck, has since been restored.
The dog is constructed from two conjoined, wheel-thrown cylinders, one forming the body and the other forming the neck. (Many of the animals produced by various Pennsylvania makers have a similar hollow-bodied construction.) Several balls of clay were placed inside the dog’s body prior to firing, causing the figure to rattle when shaken. To prevent damage during the firing, vent holes were bored into the corners of the dog’s mouth, the lower breast, and between the back legs. The famous Solomon Bell redware lion in the MESDA collection, as well as a John Bell stoneware lion, are also vented through the breast and mouth, as noted by Shenandoah pottery authority, H.E. Comstock (Comstock, pp. 151, 232).
The animal’s fur is produced from numerous diagonally-incised lines. The toes with incised demarcations and unusual incised toe nails are also visible on two of the feet. One of the most distinctive “Bell” features of the dog is its impressed eyes, composed of an oval with an inner arching line. This decorative stamp is used to create the eyes and embellish the bases of several animals produced by the Strasburg and Waynesboro Bells (Comstock, p. 155).
The surface is decorated in daubs of manganese and cream-colored slip and coated in a clear lead glaze. The use of a simple lead and manganese glaze is typical of Bell animals, as well as most animals produced by various other 19th century potters. However, the addition of cream slip spotting is unusual for animals made by the Bells (or those by any potter for that matter). The overall color is remarkably similar to a pair of cats and a seated dog attributed to Solomon Bell and pictured on pp. 232 and 233 of The Pottery of the Shenandoah Valley Region.
True Bell animals are quite rare and have been increasingly difficult to find in the antiques market. The family’s notoriety for producing figural pieces, coupled with the desirability of Bell pottery in general, has led to numerous erroneous Bell attributions. (A look at the Sotheby’s catalog for the auction of the Pauline Heilman collection, held way back in 1982, will give you an idea of these frequent errors.) This dog is a different story. With a firm attribution and Rice provenance, this example is the first of its size and origin to sell at auction in some time, with many of the “BELLS” and whistles one looks for in a quality American redware dog.