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Potters on the Merrimac: A Century of New England Ceramics

September 7, 2019 @ 8:00 am - April 30, 2020 @ 8:00 am

This exhibition will focus on early American pottery production in Merrimacport from 1790-1890, with a focus on William Pecker pottery (circa 1790-1820), and the Daniel Bayley Pottery Company in Newburyport (circa 1764 to 1799). This will cover most of the local pottery production before and after the American Revolution.

Exhibit Overview

Utilitarian, lead-glazed earthenware had been a household necessity in New England since the earliest days of seventeenth-century settlement. Domestic production of everyday ceramic wares began not long after the Massachusetts Bay Colony was established on the shores of North America. This production supplemented the needs of the inhabitants of the colony, which could only partially be fulfilled by like items making their way across the Atlantic from England. As with all such items of manufacture, these locally-made objects were also used in trade and commerce beyond their practical functions in the household. Over time, they became staples of the local economy, and were traded as far as they could be carried. In Essex County, Massachusetts, on the banks of the Merrimac River, generations of families produced ceramic vessels of varying dimensions and purpose, utilizing local clay deposits to fulfill the needs of their community, and to ensure the livelihood of their kin. They built workshops, warehouses, kilns, and homes, which they passed on to the next generation, along with the knowledge of their trade.

The curatorial team of the Custom House Maritime Museum, along with Guest Curator Justin Thomas, have assembled an exhibit focusing on aspects of the production of multiple potteries and potting families along the Merrimack River, primarily from the periods of the eighteenth-century prior to the Revolutionary War to the mid-nineteenth century, with outlying examples in both style and material, including examples from the early twentieth century. This exhibition will be of considerable interest to the residents of the Merrimack region, ceramics collectors, and historians and history enthusiasts with an interest in the role of domestic production at the dawn of the United States. This type of an exhibit is a first for the Custom House, bringing together collections, archeological specimens, and other intact surviving objects for display and contextualization. Many of these pieces are returning to the Newburyport area after upwards of two centuries of absence from their place of creation on the banks of the Merrimack River. In the time that passed, these objects had been traded and shipped for purpose of their intended use, and subsequently moved through private collections as artifactual history, before finally making their way home in 2019.

Guest Curator

Justin Thomas is a collector of early pottery, and writer on pottery collecting. He has studied with museums and archaeology departments around the country. Presenting at conferences and seminars throughout New England, New York, and Delaware, Thomas has published more than a dozen feature stories on early American pottery production in various national journals, magazines and antique trade publications. For more information and examples of his work, Justin also operates the blog: EarlyAmericanCeramics.com


September 7, 2019 @ 8:00 am
April 30 @ 8:00 am
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