The use of clay and earthenware products in America has been dated back to somewhere between 3500 to 2000 BC. And while other civilizations such as Greece, Egypt and China are better known for their mastery of fine earthen ceramics, the abundance of raw materials of every type can be found in America.
Shut off from Europe and Asia, the Olmec civilization of Mexico is known to have used kilns capable of firing pottery in the range of 900 degrees Celsius as far back as 1000 BC. A feat matched only by Egyptians in prehistoric times. Yet, although pottery was widely made and used in native American cultures, the development of stoneware, fine porcelains or glazes, such as those found across Europe and into the Far East, never came to pass.
With the arrival of European settlers, Old World Craftsman began to apply their trades. By 1650 Brick making was wide spread through out the colonies. Still the Potter’s wheel did not see much use for anything other than for basic useful wears. Fashion and society preferred imported porcelain and china even though everything needed to produce these items were at hand.
During 1700’s manufacturing began to take hold. While fashion still preferred imports, this along with Britain’s desire to suppress the growth on independence, the Potter was often forced imitated such imports and it wasn’t until the opening of the 19th century before the Potter’s mark became a standard practice. Still slowly American pottery was beginning to gain a foothold. At the battle of Lexington, in 1775 seventy-five Potters stood on the battlefield and towns had sprung up with names such as Jugtown or Clay City.
The onset of the American Revolution also brought an explosion of American stoneware production. Both as a form of boycott as well as the blockade of import traffic, American stoneware increased and improved to the point of approaching fine grades of porcelain.
As the 1800’s approached American porcelain makers began to close in on the quality of fine white China. The first truly successful china works was Tucker Porcelain. Born in 1800, William Ellis Tucker started production in 1826. By 1827 his porcelains had won a silver medal at the 4th Franklin Institute exhibition, then again in 1828 for porcelain wares which compared to “the best specimens of French China”. Yet William’s rise to fame was cut short with his death in 1832.
The 1800’s also gave way to the industrial revolution. The introduction of mechanical pressed and molds along with invention of liquid clay which could be poured into casting molds increased production while lowering cost.
By the end of the 19th century new names begin to appear. Names such as Haeger, McCoy, and Hull. Artisans who’s designs in pottery molds were used to decorate the home of America into the 20th century.
Below are a few examples of mid 20th century clay artworks which could be found in middle class homes during the 1950’s and beyond.