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Artist/maker unknown, American, Pennsylvania German

Made in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, United States, North and Central America


Redware, lead glaze, white slip (for sgraffito decoration), copper oxide

3 5/8 x 3 3/8 inches (9.2 x 8.6 cm)

Curatorial Department:
American Art

* Gallery 215, American Art, second floor (Johnson Gallery)

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with the Baugh-Barber Fund, 1913

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nhd 1783 to 1815 ceramics [x]  

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This beaker was made from high-quality clay found under the wet topsoil of Pennsylvania's low-lying plains. Southeastern Pennsylvania's terrain could support farms on the topsoil and potteries on the subsoil, so by 1810 potteries could be found in almost every township in Buck's County.

The work of the potter fit into the agricultural calendar. The clay was dug in the fall: topsoil was cleared and a foot-deep layer of clay was sliced and shoveled into a wagon, hauled to the pottery, and stacked. Before freezing weather, the clay was carried in baskets and dumped into a mill - a round tub with a revolving post set with blades. A horse harnessed to a sweep walked slowly around the tub, turning the blades. Water was flushed through to clean the clay and the resulting mass of plastic earth turned gray to yellow. The clay was then shaped into one hundred pound blocks and stored in a cellar where it was kept moist but would not freeze.

This beaker started out as a flattened ball of clay. The cone-shape with rounded edges was formed by the potter on his wheel, which was rotated at variable speeds by the potter pushing a foot wheel, which in turn was connected to a balance wheel, allowing for smooth and continuous rotation.

Colorful slip (an opaque glaze) and sgraffito (incised) ornamented the ceramic wares, such as this one, and were the presentation pieces of the rural potter. Thin white slip was applied to the surface when the ware was damp, and the decorations are sgraffito, which is a technique highly developed by Pennsylvania potters. Outlines and solid areas were scratched through a coating of slip to reveal the red underbody, which then shone red through the glaze. Copper oxide daubed on before glazing created the vibrant green accents. Everything except the bottom is covered with a clear brownish lead glaze.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.