Taking A Break with the Bells and Baecher

All day, every day now, for the entire week, I have worked on the Guy Wolff book and pretty much nothing else. There are only six weeks until the deadline, and though it is mostly written, this is the stage with a lot of little details and last minute interviews, and OMG, I have to move that whole section to elsewhere in the book, and what was I thinking, and how do you spell Xanthorrhoea quadrangulata? Actually, that is the correct spelling for the very rare and much prized plant that Joe Eck grows at North Hill in an enormous Wolff pot. Oh, and yesterday I converted the footnotes to endnotes, which is what UPNE my publisher wants and for some reason, all the numbers were turned into Roman numerals! Double OMG.

So to keep myself in the right frame of mind, the book I have been rereading now and then for a short break and inspiration is American Redware by William C. Ketchum, Jr., published in 1991. I’ve had it since it first came out, and though it is aimed at collectors, I have gone through it many times. Those old redware potters sure made nice pots.

Some of Guy’s early American potting heroes are in the book: Anthony Baecher and Samuel and Solomon Bell and others. And yes, there are a few photos of early flowerpots.

Baecher worked in the mid and late nineteenth century in Thurmont, Maryland and later in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He made basic items for everyday use such as cream pots, crocks, preserve jars, and also fancy, heavily decorated pots like sugar bowls festooned with flowers. Plus, he sculpted goats and other animals as well. Today his pieces, especially his little sculptures, are auctioned off for an absolute fortune. Needless to say, and what interests me most with the project at hand, he made flowerpots and vases.

Samuel and Solomon Bell, part of a large potting family that worked in Pennsylvania and Virginia were competitors of Baecher. They were in Strasberg, Virginia a bit earlier and around the same time as he was, and like him, they made little clay dogs and other sculptures. They also made flowerpots, some of which they decorated with manganese or copper on the outside, as well as an array of domestic pots.

I do like the shapes of the old earthen milk pans and jugs, and hump-molded platters. Today, the pots with splashes of copper or manganese dioxide command the highest prices from collectors but I do not like them as well as the kitchen pots that were glazed only on the interior. The simple, everyday pots saw heavy wear and many were lost in use. The fancy pots were more likely to be treated carefully and passed down in a family.

But, enough fooling around looking at photos of antique redware and reading about the potters of the past! Time to get back to work on the book about a very much alive redware potter. And hopefully, I can even figure out what to do about all those Roman numerals.

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