Editor's note: The following essay was published on June 28, 2007 in Resource Library with permission of the author and Westmoreland Museum of Art. It was written concerning an exhibit titled Made in Pennsylvania: A Folk Art Tradition, organized by the Westmoreland Museum of American Art with four guest curators, on view at the Museum from June 23 - October 14, 2007. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay please contact the Westmoreland Museum of American Art directly through either this phone number or web address:
by Frank and Susan Swala
As the manufacture of blue-gray stoneware continued into the last quarter of the nineteenth century, changes were taking place in the pottery business. Competition was stiff throughout the Monongahela Valley, with potteries dotted all along the river. Glass vessels were gaining popularity due to mass production following the government's weights-and-measures requirements. Clear glass canning jars were quickly replacing heavy, labor-intensive, hand-turned stoneware counterparts. Competition from more industrialized ceramic manufacturers was also threatening the pottery industry in western Pennsylvania. 
Consequently, the pressure was on for stoneware manufacturers to create new products. As Albany slip was already being used to seal the interiors of blue-gray salt- glazed stoneware, it was only natural that creative artisans would begin to experiment with the brown slip glaze as a decorating medium, applying it to the outside of their cured clay products. Along with their traditional salt-glazed ware, the potteries in New Geneva and Greensboro -- small towns along the Monongahela River in southwestern Pennsylvania -- began to manufacture tanware. In addition to the obvious absence of cobalt decoration, tanware was fired inside saggers to keep it free of salt vapors. Because salt was not introduced into the hot kiln during firing, no chemical reaction occurred, resulting in a flat tan surface instead of a shiny gray one. An occasional shiny example of tanware can be found, likely the result of residual salt in the kiln from previous firings of salt-glazed stoneware (cat. 1).
At present, the earliest piece of tanware known is a pitcher dated 1880 (cat. 2). The latest piece known is a pitcher dated 1901 (cat. 3), initialed "LBD," for L. B. Dilliner (cat. 4). A common misconception is that tanware preceded blue-gray stoneware. In fact, the Treasury of American Design pictures a tanware pitcher and attributes it to Greensboro, Pennsylvania, circa 1797. From the number of dated pieces known, it is safe to assume that the majority of wares were produced during the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
New Geneva has generally been accepted as the location of the pottery that produced tanware, although tanware was probably produced in Greensboro as well. In fact, several potteries were in production in New Geneva during the last part of the nineteenth century. A tanware pitcher has been found with the initials "RTW" (R. T. Williams) (cat. 5) and another stenciled with the name John Eberhart, who, along with L. B. Dilliner, were three noted New Geneva potters. A string holder is initialed "FC" (cat. 6), and a dog-shaped doorstop is signed Frank Cleavenger (cat. 7), a potter who worked in both New Geneva and Greensboro. A tanware pig bank is marked "Greensboro, PA" (cat. 8) in freehand slip, and a flowerpot has "H&J" (Hamilton and Jones) marked on the bottom in Albany slip. There are other potteries -- including ones in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, and in the Ohio area -- that produced some tan-colored stoneware with brown slip, but they are not easily confused with New GenevaGreensboro tanware.
Variations in the colors or shades of tanware seem to be a result of the vein of clay that was locally mined from clay pits. Occasionally, a handle on a pitcher or flowerpot will be a different shade from the rest, suggesting that the clay came from different batches. The potter may have colored the clay with additives to achieve the variance in color from light tan to reddish brown to dark gray-brown. It is unlikely that temperature affected the color shade. Unlike blue-gray stoneware, tanware's color is typically uniform and not shaded by positioning in the kiln. Albany slip clay was imported from upstate New York, and the colors vary only slightly in shades of dark brown. Most pieces were decorated in freehand, often using a vine and/or tulip motif with dots and dashes, while other tanware was stenciled with merchants' names (cat. 9). Small, stenciled jugs were made for liquor dealers and distillers in the region (cat. 15). Presentation or personalized pieces with names and sayings were meant to commemorate an important occasion or person known to the potter (cat. 10). Uncommon forms such as banks, string holders, coffee jars, miniatures, doorstops, jugs, mugs, cups, and doll heads were also produced (cat. 11).
During the late nineteenth century, riverboats brought tourists to the small towns of New Geneva and Greensboro to purchase local wares. Many of the tanware pieces were made for the gift or novelty market, with the most common forms being pitchers and flowerpots, which were easily transportable by the traveling tourists (cat. 12). Unlike salt-glazed stoneware, no large storage vessels have been found. Pitcher sizes vary from a few inches in height to a two-gallon capacity. These pitchers offered a variety of shapes, with an attention to detail and defined lines -- a characteristic less common in their salt-glazed counterparts (cat. 13). Some flowerpots have a bulbous shape, fluted edges, attached trays, and/or attached chainlike rings (cat. 14).
The beauty of tanware has been appreciated for many years.
In the September 1931 issue of the Antiquarian, a number of fine
examples of tanware were illustrated in the article titled "The Pottery
of Greensboro and New Geneva." Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Kaufman, early collectors
of tanware, displayed their pottery in Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece
Fallingwater, in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Tanware continues
to be recognized today as it was in years past -- as a unique folk-art form.
1 Phil Schaltenbrand, Old Pots: Salt-Glazed Stoneware of the GreensboroNew Geneva Region (Hanover, PA: Everybody Press, 1977), 33.
2 Phil Schaltenbrand, Big Ware Turners: The History and Manufacture of Pennsylvania Stoneware (Bentleyville, PA: Westerwald Publishing, 2002), 83.
3 Schaltenbrand, Old Pots, 53.
About the author
Frank Swala (Jefferson, PA), a stoneware collector from
Greene County, is guest curator for salt-glazed stoneware and tanware. He
has coordinated efforts with private collectors to select over two hundred
pieces of stoneware that demonstrate the range of size, shape, decoration
and color from six counties of western Pennsylvania. Many of these pieces
have never been exhibited before.
About the exhibition
Made in Pennsylvania: A Folk Art Tradition, organized by the Westmoreland Museum of American Art with four guest curators, will be on view at the Museum from June 23 - October 14, 2007. This exhibition presents important examples of fraktur, salt-glazed stoneware, tanware, textiles, and painted furniture, most originating in western Pennsylvania.
Made in Pennsylvania brings together for the first time almost 400 significant examples of folk art that will enable comparisons of style, maker and region. These objects come from both public and private collections, in addition to the Museum's own collection.
An 80-page catalog accompanies the exhibition with color photographs of all objects as well as a short introduction/overview of each object category. Contributors are the guest curators and Phil Schaltenbrand, author of Big Ware Turners: The History and Manufacture of Pennsylvania Stoneware on salt-glazed stoneware. The soft cover catalog is available at An American Marketplace The Shop at The Westmoreland, online at www.wmuseumaa.org or by calling 724-837-1500 ext. 41.
Resource Library editor's note:
The above essay was published on June 28, 2007 in Resource Library with permission of the author and Westmoreland Museum of Art. It was written concerning an exhibit titled Made in Pennsylvania: A Folk Art Tradition, organized by the Westmoreland Museum of American Art with four guest curators, on view at the Museum from June 23 - October 14, 2007. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay please contact the Westmoreland Museum of American Art directly through either this phone number or web address:
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Judy Linsz Ross, Director of Marketing/Visitor Services, Westmoreland Museum of Art, for help concerning permission for reprinting the above text
Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Resource Library.
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