Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Object of the Week, 4/1/09

This week's remarkable object is a potter's rib from the Eardley's Deseret Pottery site.  A number of different potters were involved in this company, including the three Eardley brothers: James, John, and Bedson.  At times, John Cartwright and Jonah Croxall also worked at this site in Salt Lake City, but during that time the pottery had a different name.

In the 1970s, a Utah State Liquor store was built on the site.  For whatever reason, an archaeological survey was not conducted before construction.  Lucky for modern scholars, Nancy Richards walked by one day.  Ms. Richards was a curator for State Parks and she happened to be researching Utah's nineteenth century potteries.  She was shocked by what she saw in the backdirt and as I have heard the story, she called up to the University of Utah for help.  A group of archaeology students came down and they all spent some time frantically putting fragments of things in boxes.  That collection, which has never been exhibited to the public before, will be a large part of the collection on exhibit.

A potter uses a rib as a carpenter uses a profile gauge.  The rib's shape matches that of the preferred shape of a particular pottery vessel or object.  While the wet shape spins upon the wheel, the potter holds the rib up against the vessel to be certain that it has the desired shape and size.  The rib helps the potter to throw things "freehand" but stay close to a particular size and shape. 

One of these potters wrote on this rib:

The rib is inscribed: "Flower saucer / James Eardley / Bedson Eardley" and on the side, the date "June 18, 1864".  The last number is a bit messy and one could argue that it says nine and not four, but I think it is a four.

This is very cool.

I really like this object because it shows the kind of evidence that can only be taken from objects.  On June 8th, 1864, the Deseret News carried this announcement: "John, James, and Bedson Eardley dissolve their partnership; James and Bedson reform the Deseret Pottery; John forms ‘Sixth Ward Pottery’ with Amos Fielding as agent" (p. 292).

Ten days before this rib was made, three three Eardley brothers broke up the Desert Pottery and one of them set out on his own.  A few years after this, John accepted a mission in St. George and worked there for the rest of his life, along with kilns he operated in Beaver and Panguitch.  

I don't know if the brothers divisions were friendly or strained when they split up in 1864, but the fact that James and Bedson marked this rib with their names implies that this flowerpot design was shared between them, but was not John's.  It also implies that James and Bedson agreed upon this design when developing new products for the new incarnation of the Deseret Pottery.  I believe that also hints that consumers in Salt Lake City cared about the design of their flower pots and that people entering the Deseret Pottery noticed the different designs by James, John, and Bedson, and further distinguished them from other partners in the pottery or other clayworks in the city.

You'll just have to come see this little gem for yourself.

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