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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Mid-Brazos Potters of Falls and Limestone Counties

Sherds from Lyon's Pottery Co, at Denny. Courtesy University of Texas at San Antonio

Perhaps the most ignored pottery region of Texas is what I call the Mid-Brazos region, that area along the Brazos Valley that spreads from Marlin down to Kosse, and which includes the Denny site. This would be encompassed by Falls, Freestone and Limestone Counties, a wedge shaped area between the Brazos and Navasota rivers...  There were lots of potters in this region and they began to produce fairly early. But the problem has always been identification and scarcity. And to be honest, downright homely pottery for the most part. And since it has not inspired Texas Stoneware collectors, there has always been that void of information... and thus a pile of unidentifiable stoneware in all of our collections. You need to have at least a vague picture of this region’s pottery if, for no other reason, to help in the process of elimination, when trying to figure out the origin of a strange pot…
J. L. Stone produced pottery in the Brazos Valley for at least ten years, working for three different Mid- Brazos region potteries. His figural vessels like this one bring astronomical prices.

My friend, potter Sonny Moss of Calvert helped clean up the Denny site and photographed the findings some seventeen years ago.  I have since met descendants of William Lyon, who built the kiln in the pictures around 1894. They were barely engaged about the present interest in Texas Stoneware, and the possible value of their great grandfather’s work to history and antique collectors. They knew where the old kiln was, but weren’t so sure about authentic samples of Lyon pottery. Sonny was gracious enough to share his photos of the kiln site, and so I thought I would blog about what I know so far about the Mid-Brazos Stoneware.
William Lyon's overgrown kiln at the Denny site in 1995. Photo provided by Sonny Moss.

First of all, the potters, in order of their appearance: (Major names in bold letters) An *asterisk means they signed their work.

Alberry Johnson            1859    Limestone Co.

William Knox                  1860   Austin (now Waller) Co.
A really fine Kimik pitcher. Kimik produced pottery in the Brazos Valley for around thiriy years. Photo courtesy Burley Auctions, New Braunfels, Tx.
*L. Kimik                                          1870    Freestone Co.

J. L. Stone  (at Knox)                      1870    Limestone Co.
William Knox (Knox Pottery Co.)  1870    Limestone Co.
J. Fowler churn, made in Thornton, Tx.
*John &  E. J. Fowler       1872   Limestone Co.

J. L. Stone  (at Fowler)              1872   Limestone Co.
*L. Kimik                                      1875   Limestone Co.
Churn made by the Fire Brick & Tile Co., Kosse, Tx. Although only salt-glazed, this is an elegant, classically formed churn, very fine craftsmanship for Mid-Brazos pottery... probably the work of  Stone or someome like him. 
*Fire Brick & Tile           1875   Limestone Co.

J. L. Stone (at Fire Brick & Tile) 1875   Limestone Co.
Jasper Gibbs                              1875   Limestone Co.

J. L. Stone (at Fowler)              1878   Limestone Co.
W. P. Bullard (at Kimik)            1880    Limestone Co.

D. B. France                                1880    Limestone Co.

M. B. Griffith                              1880   Limestone Co.
F. W. Gilbert                               1880   Limestone Co.

J. P. Reid                                      1880   Limestone Co.
Henry Welch                                1880   Limestone Co.

William Harker                            1880    Limestone Co.

William Lyon (at Fire Brick & Tile) 1881 Limestone Co.
*Kosse Pottery & Brick     1884    Limestone Co.

Baker Pottery Co.                         1893    Falls Co.
These two vessels and misc. lids photographed by Sonny Moss in 1995 are my only clues to the appearance of  William Lyon's pottery. Runny, streaky, tar brown, and your basic white. This Turn of the Century standard was often achieved with a clear salt-glaze, and only worked when the clay would fire to white. Inferior pink and orange clays were glazed with various browns.
William Lyon (Denny PC)              1894        Falls Co.

John Lyon (Denny PC)                    1900        Falls Co.
 Athens Pottery began production pretty late, with poor, iron-infested clay, around 1920.
Athens Pottery                        1920    Limestone Co.
A signed, "cavetto rimmed' Kimik crock, from the Georgeanna Greer Collection auction catalog, Harmer Rooke Galleries. Note the fancy rim, the wonderful impressed stamp, and the incised trim ring, which goes through the handles.

It appears that the northern influenced forms of L. Kimik and William Knox were the first to appear with any success in the Mid-Brazos Region around 1870, even though there were others who might have preceded Them. The Knox pottery is very rare, and since he started in Waller County before the Civil War, it is expected that his forms would be more ovoid to semi-ovoid.  Following the success of Knox and John and E. J. Fowler over in Limestone County, Kimik moved from Freestone to Limestone County five years later, and this seems to have set off a virtual stoneware rush.  By 1880, at least ten potters were active in Limestone County.
 A pristine J. Fowler pitcher.
And as new stoneware companies started up operations, J. L. Stone seemed to be the man to hire to build kilns and set up production, as he started production in 1870 with Knox, 1872 with Fowler, and in 1875 Fire Brick & Tile at Kosse. In 1878 Stone returned to his original employer, John Fowler. Perhaps it was here where he began to shape the famous sculpture jugs that have brought so much attention in recent years.

Orange, red, gray,.... all found in the wall of the Denny kiln. Courtesy Sonny Moss.

If you read my blog about Kirbee pottery, you know that most Texas pottery can be traced by clay body, and that pink and red clays were not as common, and were used at the Kirbee site near Montgomery, Texas.  Well here is where the confusion could start, except that Kirbee was out of business by the time Limestone County potters began to produce pottery with red clays as well; Red, pink, orange, gray, white, peach, khaki… Mid-Brazos potters had a kaleidoscope of earth colors to choose from. They seemed to use whatever was convenient, not hesitating to use any clay that would present itself. Some of the potters were more selective, and seemed to also throw better forms as well.
A rare view inside William Lyon's Denny Pottery kiln. Courtesy Sonny Moss, Calvert, Tx.
Knox and Kimik were good turners, with distinct styles and craftsmanship; Mostly salt glazed jugs and pitchers, white to khaki colored clay, and luckily, Kimik had a stamp which he impressed into some of his handsome vessels. They are a big deal. He is one of the few other Texas potters besides John Wilson who used the northern style “cavetto” rims, a decorative molding at the mouth of a vessel, which has the profile of a robust picture frame ogee.  

The sturdy Fowler two-handled jug is an essential for any Texas stoneware collection.

Texas stoneware collectors LOVE those big salt drops on the pots.

Not as typical of Fowler construction, I believe this to be a Fowler churn made by J. L. Stone. Note the fancy "cavetto rim" typical of their competitor, L. Kimik.
The Fowlers were probably the most prolific, cranking out what seems to be train car loads of sturdy, utilitarian, salt-glazed stoneware, some huge two handled jugs, large crocks and churns.  The handles are bold, sometimes like handle bars, and Fowler not only had a distinctive style, but a stamp which he impressed into his wares, and  later a familiar blue indigo stencil.  The marked Fowler pieces are also a pretty big deal, fetching impressive prices.
Typical wire-bound Fire Brick & Tile crock from Kosse.
The Kosse Fire Brick and Tile crocks and churns are not seen as much but are always coveted, as they sport a large, decorative label in indigo which is unusual for Texas Stoneware. Unfortunately, they are almost always in bad repair, held together with bailing wire. They must have been better at bricks than they were at stoneware. They manufactured miles and miles of clay sewer pipe, and a lot of brick... fire brick for chimneys and I fear that rotting, soft brick you can see in some of the abandoned, dilapidated  buildings in Calvert.

Some hot-colored red and orange clay vessels, perhaps by Wm. Lyons, and a pink brick from the Mid-Brazos region.

The entrance to the Denny kiln illustrates the diversity of Lyon stoneware from Falls County.

The problem: The stoneware made at the Denny Pottery by the Lyons is fairly common, but hard to identify. Having no signature stamp, clay body, color, glaze or distinct style, it must be studied closely to identify. William Lyon was originally a potter for the Durham -Chandler pottery (Third site Wilson) of Guadalupe County in 1878, before he turned for William Saenger in Bexar Co., in 1879, then he came up to Limestone County for a brief stint at Fire Brick & Tile, and then got involved in a partnership in Wilson County which took over the old Suttles pottery in 1882, placing his craftsmanship far south of the Mid-Brazos region for the better part of 16 years. Lyon & Parkhurst operated from 1882 until he came back to ther Mid-Brazos area to establish his own Denny Pottery Co. in Falls County in 1894. The overlap from pottery to pottery is significant. William Lyon's style would have been the aggregate of three San Antonio area potteries.

To make things even tougher to pin down, one potter, J. L. Stone, probably the best of them all, turned pottery for three different Mid-Brazos operations over a critical ten year period. It would be possible to find Stone’s various stoneware with very similar construction that could be either Knox, Fowler or Fire Brick & Tile, and the only way to tell the difference would be the glaze… if that. Stone's craftsmanship would have been the quintessential amalgamation of the major Mid-Brazos potteries, (minus Kimik). So great study needs to be made of these two master potters to identify the Mid-Brazos stoneware accurately.

Note: it is important to note that the beautiful, slope-shouldered,  Albany slip- glazed jugs with LYONS impressed in them have nothing to do with this potter, or as some have suggested, Lyons, Texas, and are in fact from New York. 

Lyon (singular) pottery can be almost any color of clay, but often orange, and with opaque brown, or white, or transparent, almost black-brown glazes. Note the notch out of the underside of each end of the pulls... (Compare to Moss's grouping) Methinks alot of formerly attributed Stoker pottery (Bastrop Co.) of similar description may actually be from Lyon's.

Distinctive notches under the pulls... The impressed italic 2 is VERY similar to Kimik's 2.

Another nicely formed Fire & Brick churn... and the obligatory CRACK.
Found this lovely 3 gallon, handled churn in Reisel, Texas. Interesting rust-brown glaze... excellent white clay like McDade's, handle finished much like the Fowlers I have seen... Anybody got any ideas? Could be William Lyon... check out caramel glaze in pile of sherds in very first photo from UT San Antnio.

Good luck, and please...


1 comment:

Laine Farley said...

I have been researching Lee Kimik because my great great grandfather, David Wilson, bought his kiln. David's brother-in-law, Wiley Petty Bullard, worked for Kimik. Your excellent post has the only photos I've found of Kimik's work so thank you! I'm still trying to find out if it's possible to visit the kiln site (the historic marker is on the highway, not at the kiln) and whether there are any remaining artifacts.