The largest and one of the strongest elements of the Bidwell House Museum’s collection of decorative arts is its selection of 18th and 19th century ceramics. Collecting redware, stoneware and porcelain for over a twenty year period, Messrs. Hargis and Brush assembled a group of objects that offer an exceptional survey of the potter’s craft. Choosing from this far-reaching array of objects, the Museum recently exhibited eight pieces of American redware at the Sheffield Historical Society’s Old Stone Store. A variety of vessel types were included in the exhibition, chosen as representative of the overall breadth of the Hargis/Brush collection.
Redware to Kitchenware offered an overview of the types of household objects that would have been found in an early American kitchen. This collaborative effort, which also included artifacts from the Colonel Ashley House and the Sheffield Historical Society, provided a view of how utilitarian objects possess a vitality of design and decorative appeal that goes well beyond simple function. If the craft of colonial American potters was, “dictated by the needs of the pioneer environment, out of this traditional handcraft, beauty was created as a by-product of necessity.” (Watkins, Early New England Potters and their Wares, Archon Books, 1968)
The beauty is clearly evident in the range of glazing techniques and decorative designs seen in the objects included in this exhibition. The variety of forms, markings, and glaze colors, each of which contribute to the unique quality of the object, also illustrates an important facet of American pottery. Each of these elements is indicative of the regional styles that developed from the colonial period through the onset of the industrial age.
The Colonel John Ashley House is owned by The Trustees of Reservations and contains items that Sheffield’s wealthiest family, the Ashleys, would have been likely to use on an everyday basis. The Sheffield Historical Society’s redware collection is smaller in scale and represents the range of goods that men such as Dan Raymond would have enjoyed.
Set against these pieces is the history of today’s Sheffield Pottery, an internationally renowned company that produces modern wares for our everyday use, but whose history is also a family history. Support for this exhibition was given by Sheffield Pottery, which also displayed items relating to the history of the company.
Messrs. Hargis and Brush began collecting redware at a time when many fine quality objects were available, and at affordable prices. Interest in American decorative arts has grown exponentially since they began their collecting activities, and the Bidwell House Museum’s collection as viewed in its entirety, represents an extraordinary survey of the earthenware objects created by potters of the Northeast in the 18th and 19th century. We encourage all our members to visit the Museum this summer and see first hand this remarkable collection of an important American folk art.