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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Recent News: Stoneware

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Corbie offers high-end atmosphere without the high-end prices
Ironton Tribune, April 27th

The plan is to make the fourth floor a “Kentucky Proud” section, which would contain merchandise all made in Kentucky, including M.A. Hadley Pottery and Louisville Stoneware goods, both from Louisville. There will also be a restaurant in the back of...Read more

Baldwin Wallace's Annual Student Art Exhibition
The Exponent, April 26th

A stoneware clay piece displayed on a wall that was entitled, The Passive Fray, was intricate in design. The coloring was brown with a hint of blue and the end result resembled the texture of a feather. Another print displayed was created by Daisy...Read more

Black Hawk College Digest for April 26
Quad-Cities Online, April 25th

BHC artists win awards in Student Art Exhibition. Seven Black Hawk College students recently were honored for their artistic talent in the annual Student Art Exhibition. Tamlyn Tinker, of East Moline, pictured won first place with her stoneware...Read more

ESB 17th Annual Young Artist High School Exhibit
Glasgow Daily Times, April 24th

From left: Madison Faulkner, a Caverna High School junior, stands Friday with Tommy Jackson, Edmonton State Bank community president holding her piece of glazed stoneware that won best of show in the 17th Annual ESB Young Artist High School ...Read more

Review: Francesca DiMattio, 'Domestic Sculpture,' at Salon 94 Bowery
New York Times, April 23rd

Combining porcelain and stoneware, these bravura bricolages owe something to the ceramics of Nicole Cherubini and Arlene Shechet, while merging the improvisational energy of Peter Voulkos with the neo-Expressionist swagger of Julian Schnabel's ...Read more

Black Sheep Pottery to hold Ikebana spring exhibit
The Phoenix, April 23rd

The Gallery for Contemporary Ceramics at Black Sheep Pottery Art Center in Skippack will host an exhibition of Ikebana stoneware and wood-fired ceramic works beginning May 2 and running through May 10. Courtesy of Black Sheep Pottery Art Center...Read more

Pop-up shop offers local art for sale
Poughkeepsie Journal, April 22nd

Nancy Holmes-Doyle's “Candle Houses” are wood- and soda-fired stoneware that could be influenced by fairy tales. Pangea Bohl will feature raku-fired vases with sumptuous glazes and colors, and Kathleen Heidemann's whimsical hand-built functional ...Read more

Shiny and sleek, Cosmic J pipes make smoking sexy (review)
The Cannabist, April 13th

The star of the collection is of course the “Barbarella” — named after the 1968 classic film that inspired the stoneware line in the first place. Shiny and sleek, Cosmic J pipes make smoking sexy (review) The “Barbarella” design in the Cosmic J line...Read more