Crocker Farm and Thomas Commeraw in The New York Times

One of the finest pieces Thomas Commeraw left behind.
For those of you who may have missed it, my Commeraw project and the two examples of Commeraw’s pottery that we will be selling on the 29th were both featured in today’s issue of The New York Times. Click here to read the article.

Those who have kept up with my various updates have seen me comment on the remarkable life that Thomas Commeraw led; but Eve Kahn’s article in today’s paper is the first time I have spoken in any real detail about this man’s story. Sometime in 2003, a chance encounter with a census record embarked me on a quest that has more or less consumed the last eight years of my life. Since that time, I have gone a long way toward fleshing out the life of a man whose identity somehow slipped through the fingers of history. Someone who once burned a kiln with regularity near the beach of the East River, whose name was well-known throughout Manhattan and beyond–not only for the mark he left on thousands of pots, but for the mark he sought to leave on American (and world) history–essentially vanished for almost two centuries.

An oyster jar Thomas Commeraw made for free African American oysterman, Daniel Johnson.
My study of Commeraw has, naturally, taken me beyond the potter himself, into realms of American history that have little to do with stoneware–the story of people and places that populated the world in which Thomas Commeraw lived. One of these people was an oysterman named Daniel Johnson. In the fall of 2005, we sold two stoneware oyster jars clearly made by Commeraw, one of which was marked, “DANIEL / JOHNSON. AND Co No 24 / LUMBERSTREET / N. YORK.” A few years ago I set about to try to establish the identities of the few known people for whom Commeraw turned his ware. In so doing, I determined that Johnson, too, like so many New Yorkers ensconced in the oyster trade, was a free African American. We were privileged to be consigned another one of the oyster jars Commeraw made for Daniel Johnson, and it, along with the monumental Commeraw jug, will be sold on the 29th.

Thanks to everyone for taking interest in this remarkable story, and I look forward to sharing more of it with you soon, as I get closer to completing my long-labored-over book on the life and times of Thomas Commeraw.



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Brandt’s Interview on “Artisan Ancestors”: Researching American Stoneware, Thomas Commeraw, and More

Artisan Ancestors, a podcast by Jon Kay.
Artisan Ancestors, a podcast by Jon Kay.
Jon Kay, the director of Traditional Arts Indiana, recently launched a great new podcast called Artisan Ancestors. Jon describes it as a “podcast where I explore ways to research and understand the past,” and he does just that, talking to professors, researchers, authors, and scholars about American decorative arts. A couple of weeks ago, Jon interviewed me about Crocker Farm, our stoneware-related research, and the Commeraw project. If you’re at all interested in any of those topics, and you can put up with listening to me talk for twenty minutes or so, you might want to give it a listen. I think you may find it interesting.

(For those completely new to this sort of thing, a podcast is essentially an internet radio broadcast; it just takes a click of the mouse to listen.)

Click here to check it out.

(Once there, simply click the play button or the “Play in new window” link on the left-hand side of the page to start listening.)



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Commeraw Project Update 2

Today I posted the following on my website, www.commeraw.com, but I just wanted to share this with everyone here, as well:

The Thomas Commeraw Project.
The Thomas Commeraw Project.
I could not be happier to see Thomas Commeraw’s name, and true identity, in a New York newspaper for the first time in almost two hundred years. He and the Commeraw Project were both part of today’s issue of The New York Times, in Eve Kahn’s article on Americana Week. Click here to read it.

When I announced this project almost ten months ago, I could not have hoped for a better response. Many of you have been kind enough to share photographs of Commeraw’s work, and have even welcomed me into your homes to see and photograph your pottery. Without this generosity, I would not have the understanding of Commeraw’s career that I do now.

I am dedicated to finishing the book as soon as possible, and have a tentative completion date of Spring 2011 for my first draft. It covers a broad and (I hope) fascinating range from Commeraw himself to his fellow Manhattan potters to the black community at large to New York itself and, finally, to Commeraw’s amazing fate.

The vast majority of my time over the last several years, in working on this project, has been spent in research–in both primary documentary sources and modern scholarship. If I do the material justice, and I truly hope (and believe) that I am, this book will be a major contribution not only to the field of American ceramics but, I believe, American history in general. This has been a labor of love for me and I hope, before all is said and done, to see Thomas Commeraw restored as an important American historical figure.

Thank you for visiting and please feel free to drop me a line. I am still seeking photos of any examples of Thomas Commeraw’s stoneware, so please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to participate.



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Commeraw Project Update 1

48910I wanted to briefly update those interested in my Thomas Commeraw project on its status and what has happened since I first announced it back on March 31. First, although I have already done so privately, I want to publicly thank those of you who have been so helpful in providing photographs of Commeraw’s work (and David Morgan’s pieces) for use in my book. I am very grateful for your willingness to participate in what I think is an important endeavor for the study of not just American stoneware but American decorative arts in general. I understand that it is no small favor that you have done me in trusting me with handling images of your pieces. Secondly, I want to thank everyone for their encouragement as I come down the home stretch of my writing and putting the book together. Whether providing me with pictures or simply offering kind words of support, the response I have received since announcing this undertaking has meant a lot to me.

As for the status of this project, I have dedicated a significant amount of time over the past few months to writing, and I am pleased with the progress I have made. I expect and hope to have a rough draft finished quite soon, and am very dedicated to making that happen. Since Commeraw’s surviving work is naturally an important part of the book, I just wanted to once again invite anyone in possession of either his pottery or other Corlears Hook stoneware to participate in this project. Anonymity and discretion are extremely important to me, and while when possible I would love to photograph your pieces myself, that is not necessary. In many cases I am able to use photos taken by you, and submitting them is as simple as emailing them to me. I have a fairly large, representative number of photographs of various pieces of Commeraw’s pottery right now, but I would love to expand it. Even pictures of common pieces are useful to me, but I am of course particularly seeking any unusual stoneware made in Corlears Hook―this includes the quite rare vessels stamped “COERLEARS HOOK” (note the alternate spelling) and often decorated with incised floral decorations, canning jars (and really any type of stoneware) made in the typical Commeraw style but stamped with merchant marks, and anything that would be considered different from the norm. Click here to see some photos of Commeraw’s stoneware; the canning jars and Ashmore’s Genuine Cordials jug are a couple of examples of the more unusual pieces I am seeking. As I said, even typical pieces are of value to me, but if you are curious if something you have falls into the category of rare or strange―or even if you have something that you think was made by Commeraw but aren’t sure―please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thank you all again for your much appreciated support and I will continue to keep everyone updated as the summer wears on. If you ever want to contact me about photos or anything else at all, the easiest way to do so is through the following web page: http://www.commeraw.com/contact.



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