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Ohio Potters And PotteriesAuthor: William C. Keener
(Article orginally published July-August 1963)
This imposing industry grew out of a craft practiced long and diligently by many individuals whose products rarely moved beyond the limits of their own community. These local craftsmen came to the Middle West as settlers, bringing with them skills mastered in other sections of the nation and in Europe. Often they worked at their craft on a part-time basis, expanding their productive capacity only when the demand for their wares increased. The earliest potters made crude redware vessels, using a coarse red clay found in almost any stream bank in the state. Many of their plates and jugs, crocks and basins were decorated with simple designs in the tradition of Pennsylvania slipware; most were protected by a clear lead glaze.
The discovery of large beds of denser clays, particularly in eastern Ohio, provided the potter with a much more flexible raw material. These so-called stoneware clays could be burned at higher temperatures, producing a stronger, more vitreous body, and could also be given a tough transparent glaze by introducing common salt into the kiln at the proper temperature. Salt-glazed stoneware, with its characteristic gray color, was almost invariably decorated with a cobalt blue slip in both stenciled and hand painted designs. It enjoyed great popularity from 1820 to 1850, when thousands of jugs and crocks were turned out by Ohio potters.
As more sophisticated forms and decorative processes were developed in eastern potteries, Ohio firms quickly adapted their facilities to making new wares. James Bennett, trained at the Henderson Factory in Jersey City, New Jersey, built the first pottery at East Liverpool in 1839, and began to produce Rockingham Ware, patterned after an English ware, which consisted of an earthernware body covered with rich brown glaze and often molded into intricate forms. Bennett is purported to have turned a neat $250 profit on his first kiln. Competition quickly developed on the heels of his success. Benjamin Harker built a new pottery in 1841 and was followed by Salt and Mear in 1842 and Jabez Vodrey in 1848. All produced Rockingham as well as common yellow ware. During the last century, partners and firm names changed with deceptive frequency, but the Ohio potteries, long operated as craft enterprises, had become a full-fledged industry.
-Reprinted from Echoes, publication of The Ohio Historical Society.
Below: Ohio-made jug, 18" diu., 27" high, once held cool water for patrons of the American House in downtown Columbus, operated by William Kelsey, from late 1830s to about 1860.