Stoneware is the roughhewn cousin of porcelain. Like porcelain, it is fired at very high temperatures (1,200 to 1,400 degrees), literally melting the minerals (usually feldspar) within the clay to create a non-porous ceramic. This makes stoneware an excellent container for food storage, which is why so many 19th- and 20th-century stoneware pieces were made in the shapes of crocks, jugs, jars, and other household items. Stoneware also has terrific insulating properties, which means it keeps items cool, but can also handle the heat.
In the late 1700s, Wedgwood and other Staffordshire potteries popularized the ware. Because it is non-porous, stoneware could be used unglazed, but most English potteries glazed their pieces by adding salt to the kiln in which the stoneware was being fired. Upon being heated, the salt would vaporize, leaving a glossy layer of sodium silicate on the object.
Just after the Revolutionary War, American potters practiced roughly the same techniques. A rich vein of feldspathic clay ran through Staten Island and New Jersey, so New York and its neighbor became centers for stoneware. Famous 19th-century potter families included Morgan of New Jersey and Crolius and Remmey of New York. Farther afield there were the Nortons of Vermont and Hamiltons of Pennsylvania. All produced egg-shaped jugs, barrel-shaped water coolers, and cylindrical butter churns.
Since salt glazing was not a perfect science, potters in northern New York devised a brown liquid known as Albany slip to seal the interiors of their pieces. Sometimes the slip was also poured over the outside of items to give them a darker hue and enable potters to scratch designs and legends onto their surfaces. Toward the end of the 19th century, spongeware glazing treatments were also found on stoneware.
Though initially dominated by potters, a few factories used stoneware to produce commodities like sewer tiles. For collectors, one of the most interesting footnotes to this aspect of U.S. stoneware history is what happened at the end of a factory’s shift. That’s when workers would fashion everything from animals to busts to baseballs from the leftover clay. Naturally these pieces are highly prized by contemporary stoneware collectors.
Another stoneware player of interest to collectors was Anna Pottery of Illinois. From 1859 until 1896, the Kirkpatrick brothers who ran the pottery made stoneware tobacco pipes, butter churns, storage jugs and jars, and hanging baskets. Today, though, they are best known for their so-called railroad pigs and snake jars.
Usually fashioned as a horizontal flask, with a stopper plugging its end, the kneeling white or brownish pigs featured railroad routes and local, geographic maps on their ample sides, incised and then highlighted with a soft cobalt glaze. Sometimes the names of routes and elaborate, folk-art-like inscriptions would be written on the pig’s back, other times rivers would be depicted coursing through the porcine countryside...
The Kirkpatrick’s other signature item was the snake jar or jug, which betrayed Wallace Kirkpatrick’s love of the reptiles. Snake jugs ranged from simple pieces labeled with the words “Little Brown Jug” on the side and a snake coiled around the jug’s neck, to elaborate objects that riffed on the political cartoons of Thomas Nast and portrayed New York City’s William Tweed and his cronies as a tangle of slithering serpents.
By 1877, Red Wing Stoneware had been founded in Minnesota. Red Wing produced hand-turned jugs, water coolers, and butter churns, some with capacities of up to 40 gallons. Many of these earliest farmhouse pieces had the classic, glassy, mottled, salt-glazed surfaces that we associate with stoneware of this era.
At first, the decorations of these pieces were limited to a single hand-painted blue flower, a tornado shape, or perhaps a small bird. But in the early 20th century, Red Wing replaced its salt glaze with a zinc glaze known as Bristol. The resulting bone-white surface gave Red Wing food-storage products a clean, sanitary appearance.
Just as importantly, Bristol gave Red Wing’s designers a neutral background for decoration, from the “red wing” that would become the company’s logo to custom designs for advertisers. Red Wing had a great run, but by 1947 demand for stoneware had dropped to the point that Red Wing discontinued the line.
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Matt Moyer's sculptures at Orr Street Studios shift sight to objects we normally take for granted by reversing walls and expectations. His mixed-media pieces are created from stoneware ceramic and functional industrial materials such as steel pipes...Read more
Grand Rapids artists on displayMesabi Daily News, August 1st
The First Friday of August is this week and artists around Grand Rapids will be displaying their work at local businesses for one day where the community can walk the streets viewing the art, and the business where it's located. This month's art walk...Read more
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Elvis is still larger-than-life in Scott Fife's piece keeping watch at the Seattle Art Fair, on Thursday evening, July 30, 2015. The archival cardboard, glue, screws and paint sculpture is at the Platform Gallery's space at CenturyLink Field Event...Read more
Welcome to your True HomePhilippine Star, July 31st
Or picture yourself making tea with Rachael Ray's curvy whistling teakettle or baking some cheesy lasagna, potato gratin, meat casserole or breads, cakes, and pies on Rachael Ray's multi-purpose Bubble & Brown Oven Ovals Stoneware sets that come in ...Read more
A Confusing Look at Folk Art and American ModernismNew York Times, July 30th
Two finely wrought streamlined figurative sculptures by Nadelman — “Woman at the Piano” and a beautiful bronze head of a woman — are positioned by a selection of antique boxes, animal sculptures and a stoneware jug that Nadelman and his wife, Viola, ...Read more
Three Ithaca-area artists honored at Rochester exhibitIthaca Journal, July 30th
Joseph received $500 and the Louis D'Amanda Memorial Award for “Shadow Vase,” a wood-fired stoneware piece. The Elmer Louis Award of $600 went to Altman for his photograph “Auschwitz 11 – Birkenau Death Camp, O?wi?cim, Poland.” Trish Coonrod ...Read more
Process allowed complex decorations to be quickly applied to tablewareOrillia Packet & Times, July 10th
Of all the types of tableware produced in the second half of the 19th century, transfer-printed stoneware was perhaps the most popular and most enduring. While fine hand-painted porcelain never went out of fashion, even many who could afford it were...Read more
Ohio Stoneware Celebrates a Decade of PotteryWHIZ, July 9th
The celebration took place at their new warehouse space in downtown Zanesville. Owner of Ohio Stoneware Ross Pattison said the space is a blessing for the always growing company and although the title of 'pottery capital of the world' has faded, they...Read more