Wm. Kelly Young Collection: Anatomy of a Bell Redware Dog

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

Large-Sized Standing Redware Dog by the Bell Family. To be sold in the Wm. Kelly Young Collection on 1/30/10.
Large-Sized Standing Redware Dog by the Bell Family. To be sold in the Wm. Kelly Young Collection on 1/30/10.

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).

    As noted by authority, H.E. Comstock, the Bells used a distinctive stamp, composed of an oval with an inner arching line, to produce the eyes and decorated the bases of many of their animals.
As noted by authority, H.E. Comstock, the Bells used a distinctive stamp, composed of an oval with an inner arching line, to produce the eyes and decorated the bases of many of their animals.

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.



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Kelly Young Collection: Moravian Animal Bottles

Two exciting redware (or earthenware) animal bottles will cross the block in our January 30th auction of the William Kelly Young Collection. Both were purchased by Mr. Young in 1993 at Christie’s in New York City, in a sale that included several other fine examples of American redware and some stoneware. Both of these bottles were produced in Salem, North Carolina, sometime during the early part of the 19th century, by German-born potter, Rudolph Christ (1755-1833). Christ took control of the shop of deceased potter, Gottfried Aust, in Salem in 1789 and continued to work there until 1821 (Bivins, p. 30). He is most well-known for producing a variety of wonderful molded animal forms (along with a line of wheel-thrown vessels), including squirrels, owls, turkeys, crayfish, chickens, bear, sheep, foxes, and several sizes of fish.

Moravian Redware Squirrel Bottle by Rudolph Christ, Salem, NC. To be sold in the Wm. Kelly Young Collection on 1/30/10.
Moravian Redware Squirrel Bottle by Rudolph Christ, Salem, NC. To be sold in the Wm. Kelly Young Collection on 1/30/10.

The first redware bottle of the two to be sold, in the form of a standing squirrel holding a nut, is decorated with daubs of manganese and copper over a yellow slip and covered in a clear lead glaze. The reddish-orange color of the underlying clay is visible on the underside of the bottle’s recessed foot. Interestingly, manganese is brushed in a figure 8 pattern on one leg. Whether this treatment was implied to mean the number 8 or whether it was merely the haphazard brushwork of the potter, we will never know. The glaze is remarkably similar to the “multi-glaze” or “polychrome glaze” used by the Bells and Eberlys of Strasburg, Virginia, several decades later. In fact, I have seen a few Moravian pieces misattributed to the Shenandoah Valley for this reason. In actuality, this glaze was meant to mimic a glaze popularized by the English potter, Thomas Whieldon, during the mid 1700’s (Bivins, p. 209). The second Moravian bottle is more stylized, in the form of a portly bear. The figure’s small mouth reveals a few tiny sharp teeth, and its right foot rests upon a slain animal, possibly a sheep or pig. Its surface is covered in a dark brown glaze composed of lead and manganese.

Until recently, the most exhaustive study of North Carolina’s Moravian redware was John Bivins, Jr.’s book, The Moravian Potters in North Carolina, which was written in 1972. This book is an excellent source of information, and I encourage anyone interested in this fascinating school of pottery to take a

Recessed base of the squirrel bottle, revealing the iron-rich clay underlying the bottle's slip coating.
Recessed base of the squirrel bottle, revealing the iron-rich clay underlying the bottle's slip coating.

look at it. However, new information has come to light since then, particularly in the last three years. At the time the book was printed, for example, the author’s knowledge of some of Christ’s rarest forms could only be gleaned from period inventory lists and the existence of the objects’ original molds. Regarding an owl form, Bivins notes “since no finished examples are available, we do not know for what use the owls were intended (Bivins, p. 204).” The same is mentioned regarding a fox mold. However, both finished forms have surfaced since that time, adding to our knowledge of this potter’s work.

The 2009 edition of Ceramics in America, published by the Chipstone Foundation, is dedicated entirely to the Moravian potters of North Carolina, offering a current look at their work with several new discoveries.  Edited by Robert Hunter and Luke Beckerdite, the book includes the following articles:

Eighteenth-Century Earthenware from North Carolina:
The Moravian Tradition Reconsidered

Luke Beckerdite and Johanna Brown

Staffordshire in America: The Wares of John Bartlam at
Cain Hoy, 1765–1770

Moravian Redware Bear Bottle made by Rudolph, Christ, Salem, NC.
Moravian Redware Bear Bottle made by Rudolph, Christ, Salem, NC.

Lisa Hudgins

Staffordshire Ceramics in Wachovia

Robert Hunter

Tradition and Adaptation in Moravian Press-Molded Earthenware
Johanna Brown

Salem Pottery after 1834: Henry Schavner and Daniel Krause
Michael O. Hartley

The Mount Shepherd Pottery Site, Randolph County, North Carolina
Alain C. Outlaw

Making a Moravian Faience Ring Bottle
Robert Hunter and Michelle Erickson

Making a Moravian Squirrel Bottle
Michelle Erickson, Robert Hunter, and Caroline M. Hannah

The front cover of this edition pictures an incredible copper-glazed figure of a fox clutching a chicken (which in my opinion is one of the finest examples of early American pottery I’ve seen in some time). Looking at this piece, it is easy to understand why there is such great interest in Moravian pottery among historians and folk art collectors alike. I recommend anyone interested in the charming and useful objects created by Christ and others from this tradition to take a look at Ceramics in America‘s latest installment, a great contribution to our knowledge of Southern decorative arts.



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