History of Colonial Pottery

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What pottery early American colonists produced was mostly for their own use. Without kilns that could produce high-firing temperatures, they typically produced earthenware using local clay. Germans influenced pottery in the northern states. English, Africans and Germans created pottery in the South.

Pennsylvania Germans

  • Germans in Pennsylvania made decorated pottery from the mid-18th to the 19th century, using techniques from their homeland in the Rhine district. Using local yellow clay, they made sgraffito and slip pottery, according to the website Oldandsold.com.

Slip and Sgraffito

  • Semi-liquid clay or slip was used both as a wash before firing and as a decoration. Sgraffito refers to a technique of cutting away the surface layer to reveal a different base color. The Germans also used lead for glazing.

New England Pottery

  • New England potters made stoneware and redware for household use from the 1770s to the mid-19th century. Redware was made from brick clay fired at low heat and glazed with lead. Stoneware was a harder product fired at higher temperatures. Connecticut became famous for bean pots, and Vermont became known for crude pottery figures of cows, dogs and lions from Bennington, and mottled pottery with a brown glaze from Bennington and Burlington.

Southern States

  • Early Southern potters used English techniques. Shapes were more ovoid, with rounded shoulders, according to Southeastern Antiquing and Collecting magazine. Shapes became more generally rounded, then straighter. Earlier stoneware was of higher quality, which declined from faster, cheaper production and hard times after the Civil War as plantation potteries disappeared. Alkaline and slip glazing were common.

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