Friday, April 30, 2010

Lecture in Salt Lake City, Friday, May 7th.

I am giving a lecture next Friday at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City.  I will speak at 7 P.M. in the museum auditorium, and their new exhibit of pottery will be open.  The exhibit grew out of the Potters of the Gathering show from last year, but is a new show curated by Kirk Henrichsen.  They will have several archaeological objects on view from both the Utah Pottery Project and Utah State Parks collections, as well as antiques from the Gary and Jill Thompson Collection and the Church History Museum's own collection.

I will talk about last summer's excavation of the Davenport Family Pottery Shop in Parowan.  The museum asked for my abstract and title, and this is what I sent:

Ten Years of The Utah Pottery Project: Archaeological Questions and Answers.

After more than ten years of preparation, Timothy Scarlett led industrial archaeology students last summer to undertake the first major archaeological excavation of a pioneer-era Latter-day Saint pottery shop. In an illustrated lecture, Dr. Scarlett will overview the scholarship of Utah Pottery Project and explain the last summer's discoveries at the site of the Davenport Family Pottery Shop in Parowan, Utah (1855-1888). The results of that excavation and ongoing laboratory research open a fascinating window into challenges and struggles faced by Utah's nineteenth century potters and their families.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Congratulations to Jessica Montcalm

On Thursday, April 22nd, Jessica Montcalm successfully defended her Master's Thesis in Industrial History and Archaeology, which she titled: A Burning Question: Archaeology at the Davenport Pottery and Technological Adaptation in the Mormon Domain.

While she has some revisions and editing to finish, her committee was impressed with how much she had learned and accomplished over the last year.  Many of this blog's readers will recall that Ms. Montcalm was the assistant archaeologist during the excavation and field school last summer.  She volunteered her time over the past year both processing and cataloging artifacts in the lab, while also supervising other volunteers in the lab.

I will discuss some of her findings when I speak at the Church History Museum's exhibit opening early in May.

Congratulations to Jessica for all her hard work.

This is the penultimate abstract:

The archaeological excavations and the associated artifact analysis at the Davenport Pottery in Parowan, Utah, serve to inform questions of landscape learning and technological adaptation in unfamiliar geographic settings. Thomas Davenport and his family immigrated to the Utah Territory from Brampton, England, in order to answer the call to gather issued by the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He, along with thousands of other settlers moved into and occupied a geographic region unknown to their prior experience. Studies of prehistoric peoples' colonization of unfamiliar landscapes indicate that unfamiliar and challenging geographical surroundings hinder successful or long-lasting colonization. By contrast, the experience of the Mormon settlers, including Thomas Davenport, provides a unique situation for inquiry in which a large population made use of exhaustive planning and active restructuring of unfamiliar geographic settings, resulting in successful and lasting settlements. Analysis of the archaeological remains associated with the kiln at the Davenport pottery shop provide physical evidence of one man's learning in an unfamiliar landscape. The remains also highlight cultural preferences as a basis for technological choice, and lend to an adaptive technological discussion regarding the form of kiln used by Davenport.

News update: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good news:

Now that the academic semester is almost at an end, I will spend a bit of time on the project preparing some artifacts for a new exhibition!  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Church History Museum is going to install a version of Potters of the Gathering in their lobby.  The exhibit will open May 7th.  Kirk Henrichsen is using pottery to remind people about nineteenth century foodways and domestic life, to explore the ideal of self-sufficiency in Latter-day Saint communities, and to show people how important archaeology is as a tool to increase our understandings of the past.

Mr. Henrichsen has gathered together some new material for this show.  He will be using most of the important objects from the original exhibit- including the Thompson Collection, the Utah State Parks Collection (including the Deseret Pottery artifacts), and the Utah Pottery Project collection.  He has also found some other cool items to include, such as a Deseret Agricultural and Manufacturing Association Medal from the Territorial Fair, which will be displayed with some award winning pots!  It should be a great show and will be the first time most of this material has been exhibited to the public in Salt Lake City.

The museum has invited me to give a talk at the opening and I am excited to see the new installation.

The bad news:

Both organizations declined the proposals I'd written seeking funds for more work.  One of the grants would have supported additional fieldwork. The other sought funds to allow more experiments to develop and refine ceramic rehydroxylation dating (RHX dating).  No matter how many times it happens, reviewers rejections always sting a little, even when accompanied by encouragement to "revise and resubmit."

Either way, the lack of support funds means that we will box up the artifacts and put more of the analysis on hold for the summer.  I'll be co-teaching the 2010 Industrial Heritage and Archaeology Field School this summer at the site of the Cliff Mine in Keweenaw County in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

I'll continue to collaborate with my friends in Materials Science.  Since Patrick Bowen was awarded two grants for undergraduate research, we will move as far ahead as we can investigating reydroxylation.  I think he will work with Jarek Drelich to characterize the clay and ceramic used by the Davenports and try to figure out the significance of the different water-absorbtion processes at work in ceramics.

We'll reflect on the reviewers' comments for a few days and then meet to plan the strategy for the rest of the summer and the fall term.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Congratulations to Patrick Bowen

I am pleased to congratulate Patrick Bowen, Michigan Technological University undergraduate student in Materials Science and Engineering.  Mr. Bowen won two major fellowship competitions and he was awarded funds for his ongoing collaborations studying rehydroxylation dating of archaeological ceramics.  He was awarded one of Michigan Tech's Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (SURF) Fellowships as well as a Michigan Space Consortium Undergraduate Research Fellowship.

Patrick has been an important part of the interdisciplinary research team that Jarek Drelich and I put together to assess this newly published dating technique.  Mr. Bowen, Helen Ranck, and Jessica Beck, three MTU undergraduates in the Departments of Materials Science and Social Science, did exceptional work designing tests to assess the usefulness of RHX Dating for the Utah Pottery Project.  Patrick is presenting the preliminary results of their analysis at MTU's 2010 Undergraduate Research Expo.

The SURF and MSC Fellowship programs are both very competitive and I am proud of Mr. Bowen for his successful applications!

We are waiting to hear decisions on the proposal I wrote to support more field research as well as a National Science Foundation proposal to support more research into Rehydroxylation Dating.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed on our outstanding proposals!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ash Glazes and the Curious Pits

Last week, I arranged for a local glaze technician, Derik Spoon, to stop in and take a peek at some of the broken bits of pottery still out on the table. Long background story short, I took a pottery class at the local arts center, and imagine my surprise and excitement when the instructor informed us that he just moved to the area from a job as a glaze tech with a major producer of glazes available commercially to ceramic artists across the country... He agreed to stop in and take a look at what we recovered.

He immediately identified the type of glaze used on all of the pieces we had out on the table, and what he had to say ran contrary to everything we thought so far. Derik informed us that every piece on the table was glazed with an ash glaze.

Ash glazes, as Derik explained, are the simplest of glazes to make, consisting of processed ash mixed with clay and water. The ash typically is soaked and filtered through water to draw off the majority of the heavy alkali materials (a convenient by-product of this process is lye, a key ingredient for soap making; it would have been a sought-after product in any pioneering settlement with limited contact to larger supply networks), before being mixed with refined clay. Water is then added to the mix, and the mixture is applied to the vessels. Ash glazes leave very identifiable (to a trained glaze technician) markers on ceramics, including pooling or streaking of colors, and often a gritty appearance on the surface of the vessel. The effects of the glaze naturally differ depending on numerous factors such as the type of wood ash used, the type of clay used, the ratio of ash to clay to water, the firing time and temperature, the amount of fly ash in the kiln during firing, and the final cooling time of the wares in the kiln.

This all leads up to a new theory regarding the "random" ash pits located toward the front of the lot and the enclosed area of clay-like hard pack. These areas could very well have been where Thomas and the family were processing ash with various inclusions (bone, bisqued ceramics) for the purpose of color/effect experimentation, before mixing the ash with the refined clay to glaze the pottery. The material in the enclosure could be the refined clay used in the glaze mixture, or a large, ready supply of pre-mixed clay and ash drawn off of the neighboring ash pits. In any case, this is a very exciting revelation, and it offers possible explanations to the question, "What in the world was going on over there?"

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Video of Carol Wright

This short video captures Mrs. Wright's visit to the Davenport Pottery Site in June of 2009.  I am telling her about what the archaeology has taught us about the history of the pottery.  You can see that I am showing her how well her sketch map matched the magnetometry data and our discoveries underground.  I also think you can see her smile at the end.

Mark Dice took part in our field school this summer.  It was his first experience with archaeology.  Mark is a teacher and musician, and he is also a talented media specialist. Mark owns Dice Video and I am very grateful for his help as part of our research team last summer as well as his willingness to share his media kung-fu with us!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Carol Adams Wright, 1908-2009

This weekend, I was saddened to learn that "Christmas Carol" Wright died last October.  I had not heard the news until now, so I set aside a moment in my workday this morning to reflect on Mrs. Wright's contributions to the Utah Pottery Project research effort.

Mrs. Wright was Thomas and Sarah Davenport's great-granddaughter.  Carol was born to Thomas Davenport Adams and Luella Redd Adams on Christmas day in 1909, an event for which she earned her nickname "Christmas Carol."  The potters, Thomas and Sarah Davenport, were Carol's father's mother's parents.  Carol's grandmother's siblings spent their youth working in the pot shop, perhaps also her grandmother at times. Carol's father worked at the shop when he was young and also spent his youth paying amid the shop's ruins before they were torn down.

Carol was practically a living eye-witness with first-hand knowledge of a Utah pottery.  When I first met her in 1999, her memories of her youth and the stories told by her parents and grandparents were still sharp and clear records of the mid-nineteenth century.  She welcomed me into her home and shared all her knowledge with me, at a time when I was a total stranger in the community.  I had simply knocked on her door to ask about the history of empty lot next door.  The sketch map that I drew with Mrs. Wright in 1999 guided our excavations and her stories helped us to find the shop's clay beds.

To the best of my knowledge, she was the last person in that generation in the entire state of Utah.  The last to talk with people that had worked at potting to make a living.  While some may still recall the Ogden or Provo factories of the 1920s and 30s, Carol had living memory from a pioneer-era pot shop.

I will forever be grateful that Mrs. Wright shared her stories with me.  She was trusting, open, and kind when I was a young student-researcher, living out of my old truck, and walking around town with little else except my dusty notebook and enthusiasm.

Rest in peace, Mrs. Wright.  Thank you.

Several Utah newspapers and ABC News 4 printed her Obituary last October, in 2009.