Pennsylvania Tulipware

from the Treasury of American Design



Pennsylvania German settlers from the Rhine Valley inherited a love for ornamental kitchenware which reflected Old World techniques and traditions. The abundance of Pennsylvania red clay, the great supply of wood for fuel, and the ease in setting up a kiln made possible the continuation of their pottery handicrafts. Kitchen articles were the first to be fashioned from this clay -- plates, pots, bowls, baking dishes, jelly molds and collanders, and handled jugs for cider and vinegar. Other household items were supplied by the potter as well, including roofing tiles, washbowls, candlesticks, lamp bases, shaving mugs and bowls, ink stands, pipes, and toys. For the most part these items were strictly utilitarian and unadorned. However, the most prized pieces of pottery today are the highly original ornamental ware made in the European tradition by a few Pennsylvania potters. These were presentation pieces commisioned as gifts for weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries.

An entirely new pottery form was created in the process of filling requests for gift ceramics: the circular dish or pie plate. Because of the many variations of the popular tulip motif that decorated this kind of plate, it came to be called tulipware. Created as display pieces, tulipware offered the craftsman an excellent opportunity to display his talents. Decorations such as peacocks, roosters, leaf and floral designs, and concentric outer rings came to be characteristic of Pennsylvania tulipware. Common also were decorations with pertinent sayings penned in Pennsylvania dialect. Examples include: "Luck and misfortune is every morning our breakfast" and "Rather would I single live than my wife the breeches give."





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Created by Ellen Harris for the Treasury of American Design Web Exhibition
American Studies Master's Program, University of Virginia
Fall 2001