Jars and Jugs

from the Treasury of American Design



     
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Almost all American ceramic wares may be classified as pottery. As early as 1630 American potters were fashioning red clay, common along the eastern seaboard, into useful household items -- plates, platters, pitchers, pots, jars, jugs, and crocks, as well as flowerpots, pipes, and roofing tiles. The pottery process involved digging the clay, grinding it with a mill to eliminate impurities, and wedging it by hand (a process similar to kneading dough). The clay was then ready to be turned on the potter's wheel, a simple table with a rotating stand operated by foot. After the clay was turned and dried in the sun, it was ready for glazing and firing. The glaze produced different colors and patterns depending on the ingredients used and methods of application. It helped seal the porous red-clay earthenware and lent a brilliant protective coating to an otherwise dull surface. Firing the earthenware was done in a kiln by a wood fire that lasted up to thirty-six hours.

Later pottery would be created from an increasing variety of clays and glazes, yeilding decorative stoneware and Rockingham and Bennington earthenware by the nineteenth century. Because these household objects were functional rather than ornamental, emphasis was on simple, straightforward designs, but this did not preclude potters from using decoration on the exteriors of earthenware pieces. Glaze, texture, color, and brushwork combined to create beautiful objects that simultaneously revealed the personal taste of the craftsman and indicated regional differences. Common decorative motifs include rings and bands formed by the potter's wheel, figures and animal forms, flowers and birds, patriotic symbols, applied leaves and fruit, and relief decoration on borders and handles.



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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