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Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Taylor Brown Stoneware story begins to unfold!


The gate at the Brown family cemetery plot.

The ETB  brand- mark of the Holy Grail?
This past July a young woman contacted me about some bits of Texas stoneware she was uncovering, which led to some wonderful discoveries. Since that first contact, Susan Singer has proven to be a dogged researcher and  “made my day” several times, as she went and did what I had only imagined. She not only found the site where Taylor Brown operated his early Texas pottery, and his family cemetery, but she found quite a few pottery shards all over the old Brown property outside of Henderson, Texas.

CLUES FOR A HISTORY DETECTIVE. Susan Singer has had great luck searching for answers to Henderson's stoneware secrets. Photographs of Brown pottery shards and Brown plantation scenes courtesy of Susan Singer.

I had merely mentioned, if she wanted to do some real service, to find me some evidence of Brown stoneware, as I had been trying to establish what its characteristics were for some time. Taylor Brown operated one of the very first potteries in early Texas, and his site was also the original site of other early Texas potters.  You might say Taylor Brown, or his potters (some of them slaves) would have thrown the “Holy Grail” of Texas stoneware, if there was such a thing.

Susan poses next to the gravestone of Taylor Brown.
One of the slaves known to have thrown for Brown was Elix Brown.  After I had discovered some early vessels which I thought had their initials on them, marked ETB, I needed some kind of hard proof. There was very little known for sure about Brown stoneware, and no known samples of it. What did his pottery look like? What colors where his glazes? What color was the clay? What kind of markings might he have put on his stoneware? What were the common forms thrown on his wheel? I needed something tangible to connect my findings to Taylor and Elix Brown of Henderson.

Susan went to work on the project with true dedication, scouring (with permission!) the old Brown home site and what was left of the kiln sites. Roads and lakes and general earthwork mayhem had obliterated much of the old pottery operation. Still, there was plenty of evidence of the early Texas potter’s toils and products.

To say the least, we learned a ton of stuff from Susan’s efforts. Much to my pleasure, she found numerous pottery shards, with a variety of clay bodies and glazes. And most importantly, some artifacts which matched my ETB vessels; Salt glazed, alkaline glazed, Albany glazed, pink and khaki colored clay, with telltale iron granules. Day after day Susan would send me photos of her finds… day after day there were new revelations… I am sure everyone will want to see and inspect her shards. She has uncovered Brown, Leopard and Rushton fragments, as well as Hunt and other east Texas potters.
First of all here are the vessels thought to be Taylor Brown’s, or perhaps his slave, Elix Brown’s. These are the only three vessels I have seen with the ETB mark... a small T dangles upside down from the top of the E!


 

1) A small salt-glazed pitcher, photo courtesy Rick Reed.
 


2) A large, olive, ash-glazed jar, sold at Burley Auctions. The stamped impression is faint at the bottom of photo at right.
 

 
The 3 gallon lime green jug which started this whole search... I found on a friend's deck full of rocks!
Notice several things which are key Brown pottery characteristics; Fairly pure gray to khaki-colored clay, with a minimum of iron impurities; Symmetrical, ovoid forms (like a football!); HANDLES, not pulls; Soft, fairly consistent glazes;  Multiple decorative rings around the shoulder.

A large, even, ash-glazed shard found by Susan Singer at the Brown pottery site. This shard certainly firms up the physical description of Taylor Brown pottery... and easily connects to the ETB stoneware. Photographs courtesy Susan Singer.


This shard is very related to the EB salt glazed pitcher...
It was the curious mark on these pots that caused me to research Taylor Brown.  Having little to go on, I knew I was looking for a Republic period potter, probably from East Texas, with initials E.B. But more curious was the little upside down T hanging off of the E. It eventually became my theory that the initials were those of a famous slave potter named Elix Brown of Henderson, Texas who had shared attribution with his owner, Taylor Brown. (See top of page) The upside- down T, dangling from the E, was very reminiscent of the game of “Hangman” where the elements of a popular game are built on the end of a T, a sort of whimsical construction which allowed the maker to mark his vessels and yet share, somewhat wryly,  the label with his master.  As far as I know, this is the only example in American stoneware of this kind of logo.

What Singer found was that John Leopard, Mathew Duncan, Taylor Brown and probably Joseph Rushton  all came from Randolph County, Alabama or thereabouts. These potters came from the same area, and shared cultural traditions, and especially pottery techniques. That helps to explain why the earliest appraisals of the ETB stoneware pointed to Duncan pottery.  And they should have. There was no doubt a professional relationship and artistic influence where the potters came from, and there could very easily have been one in Texas as well. And this may help support my theory, that it was Elix Brown who trained or influenced Duncan potters who emerged later at the “Randolph Pottery” Site in central Texas..
That typical tobacco spit brown!

 John Leopard shards found at the Brown Site. By 1870, and probably earlier, John Leopard lived next door to Taylor Brown, and operated his own pottery factory at Taylor Brown's old facility... photographs courtesy Susan Singer.
 
                  Note the sienna! It is believed that Leopard used iron oxide in his glazes.

Below are Leopard jars for comparison... Leopard forms were more like Grecian vases... wide shoulders, small bottoms. Leopard glazes were rich, spotty and rough looking compared to Brown's.

 
 
John Leopard leaned towards using pulls instead of handles... and had some fantastic glaze recipes. Leopard also used incised decorative rings... but not consistently. These rings may tell us when he was throwing for Taylor Brown.

Susan smartly researched these potters back to their roots and found the wonderful background to this story. All but Taylor Brown show up in the U.S. Census in Randolph County, Alabama in 1840. Taylor Brown was from adjacent Bibb County and married in next door Jefferson County in 1828 and still living there in 1830. He struck out for Texas right after Texans won their independence from Mexico. Apparently, after Taylor Brown discovered rich clay deposits around 1839 in east Texas the Alabama potters followed him to Rusk County, Texas and went to work for him, before starting their own pottery enterprises. Eventually Taylor Brown got out of the stoneware business. John Leopard operated a pottery at the old Brown site after the Civil War. Elix Brown disappeared but showed up later in the 1880's working for the Hunt pottery in Henderson.

Finally we have very strong evidence that links the ETB vessels to Taylor and Elix Brown. So Susan Singer has quickly become my Texas stoneware hero!

Another great shard... very even for alkaline glaze... very similar to the ETB jug. Photographs courtesy Susan Singer.

There were also some khaki colored, almost toasted salt-glazed pieces...
 
For comparison I include some examples of Duncan pottery... One distinct difference between Duncan and Brown would be the lip on the mouth of the jug. Duncan made a little rounded donut. That's right... Duncan donuts!

Taylor Brown or more probably ELIX, made a flattened ring. (Compare to top photo). It is quite possible that Elix Brown was the main craftsman of this early pottery company, and learned his trade in Alabama... and maybe from Matthew Duncan... or even more possible that the skills were passed down from generation to generation via the slaves who did the majority of the work.








So that is where we are for the moment..no shards with the ETB logo popping up on it... but that may come with time. We all owe Susan Singer a lot for doing this ground-work and homework for Texas Stoneware enthusiasts! And a special thanks to her for sharing these informative photographs of her finds.

 


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great blog Russell! Your time and effort sheds light on an important part of pottery history in Texas.

Aim said...

Hi, recently I have found several pieces of pottery while arrowhead hunting in Alabama. I stumbled upon this blog while researching the pieces. Perhaps the pieces I have found could be related to the pieces listed in this blog?