Friday, April 24, 2009

Downhill to the Opening

We finished some major tasks this week, and I feel tired and satisfied. The exhibit panels, images, and video/audio elements were the biggest push, and Ryan and I got them all into production. Darrin and Benjamin at Mishap Studios finished the first set with us and the panels went to the print shop to be printed and mounted on foam core. Ryan and I picked up the first set of panels today, and we'll hang them tomorrow. In the photo below, Ryan and Rick Cleveland of Rainbow Sign and Banner are holding the exhibit's welcome sign.

I also spent time with Benjamin today, as we selected video and audio clips for different parts of the exhibit. I was again impressed by Mishap Studio's computer set up. They are working this weekend on the exhibit's touch-screen video.

Ryan will also work with Mishap to record the audio for our "black box theater." I am using this theater to allow people to hear the voice of Heber C. Kimball, a potter and pioneer Latter-day Saint.  The narrator will read some of Kimball's sermons, while museum visitors sit in a darkened box with dramatically lit pottery.

I've finally finished painting vitrine bases. Just a few morning touch ups and then the paint can cure until we put ceramics on the bases and seal the acrylic boxes over top.  It feels great to be done painting!

This week we also finished the exhibit booklet. I wrote an essay I think is unlike most exhibit catalogs. I didn't inventory the stuff in the show, but wrote instead about the Utah Pottery Project and the potters. I suppose the essay is a bit passionate, but I think most people who come to the show will understand. I hope the entire endeavor encourages people to think about Historical and Industrial Archaeology in Utah as well as cultural heritage generally.

Kudos to Stefanie Michaelson and Karen Krieger at Utah State Parks for their herculean efforts to edit the booklet and finish the beautiful design!

Mobile blog post

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Object Photography

I spent a bunch of time today working with Benjamin Howe of Mishap Studios, taking photographs of pottery objects that will be in our exhibit, Potters of the Gathering: Clay Work in Early Utah.  We were taking photos for the small catalog booklet that Utah State Parks plans to publish for the exhibit.  These are a preview of the photographs in the book and the objects that will be in the exhibit:

These are some of the items that will be on display May 2 through July 31.  

Darrin, Ryan, and I finished the display panels and have taken them over to Rainbow Sign and Banner  to be printed and mounted on thick foam core board.  I spent some time this afternoon priming vitrine bases again.  I expect to spend more time tomorrow painting them black and perhaps we'll be able to start putting objects into cases by the end of the week!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Schedule and Calendar, May and June 2009

We hope that lots of people will be able to come visit us this summer. Both the museum exhibit and the archaeological excavation will be open to the public in May and June of 2009. The archaeological excavations at the Davenport Pottery site are open to the public whenever the archaeologists are on the site. We welcome visitors between 10 AM and 3 PM each day. Visitors will be able to walk around the site, see the dig in progress, and talk with the excavators, students, and volunteers about what they have learned through their discoveries.

Planned excavation calendar, May 11 through June 26:
May 11-18 working days, visitors welcome 10-3.
     Holiday May 19-21.
May 22-31 working days, visitors welcome 10-3.
     Holiday June 1-4.
June 5-14 working days, visitors welcome 10-3.
     Holiday June 15-17.
June 18-26 working days, visitors welcome 10-3.

Potters of the Gathering: Clay Work in Early Utah will be open at the Iron Mission State Park Museum in Cedar City, Utah, between May 2 and July 31. The museum is open seven days a week, 9 AM to 5 PM. Note that the exhibit will be open for a month following the end of our season’s excavations in Parowan.

This is our planed schedule, but please be aware that these times can change depending upon weather conditions and class needs. If we get hard rain, we’ll work in the lab or lead the students on a field trip.

While you are welcome to come visit us during our first work period, May 11 to 18, please understand that the dig will just be getting started. That week, we’ll do mapping, remote sensing, and survey. It takes a couple of days to get the excavation units started. It would be better to wait until at least May 22 to make your first visit.

If we cancel work on a scheduled day, I will post an announcement on this blog. I will also post a note if we plan to be on the site at a later time of the day. Please don’t visit before 10 AM, because we dedicate our early morning hours to making sure that the science is running smoothly before guests arrive.

Archaeology is unpredictable and our interpretation will change as we make discoveries. If you come to visit us on May 23, we’ll tell you what we think we’ve learned from our digging. So if you return on June 20, we will probably tell you that we’ve changed our minds and revised our earlier interpretations. As my colleague Pat says, “If we knew what was there, we wouldn’t dig it up!”

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Weekend Exhibit Work

I'm having a busy weekend! Gibb finished the vitrine bases in the shop. Larry and Murph are painting them. Ryan and I went up to Sandy, near Salt Lake City, to meet Gary and Jill Thompson. We completed condition reports on his collection and moved them down to the Iron Mission Museum.

I offered to help the museum staff with some public programming activities. We hosted a big group of Boy Scouts. I taught them about Paiute pump drills. It was a nice break from exhibit preparation and field school planning.

The Iron Mission Museum keeps making progress on several other projects. Below is a photo of the replica the museum is building of the blast furnace that residents operated in Cedar City in the 1850s.  The wood frame will be covered with a facade of stone, which will give it the look of the old furnace at  much lest cost.  The interior of the furnace will be filled with interpretive exhibits.  It should be done by early June.

My next post will be about the field school schedule.

Mobile blog post

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Potters of the Gathering, Part 2

Why choose Potters of the Gathering for our exhibit title?  This is a great question and one which, as several of my colleagues pointed out to me recently, I completely neglected to explain in my post!

Leonard Arrington identified "The Gathering" as one of seven ideals that leaders of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints developed to guide their community during the organization's first 15-20 years.  According to Arrington, the ideals were:
1. Gathering souls from Babylon to Zion, through active mission programs.
2. Establishing nucleated villages.
3. Consecrating private property to the Church and having it returned in stewardship for the community.
4. The redemption and beautification of the earth.
5. Frugality and economic independence from Babylon.
6. Group unity and cooperation
7. Equality among members

As Arrington explained, these were ideals that infused government policy, economic development, public discourse, and individual social action.  Like all ideals, people engaged with them in many different ways, but all of the ideals touched the potters and clay workers during their lives.

In terms of our exhibit, The Gathering was among the most important ideal.  Many of the potters came to Utah in response to calls to serve missions settling news town and "building up home industry."  Their experiences were very different within that context, but the principle of the gathering tied many of them together.

My academic interest is in the material practice of the gathering and how individuals experienced and contributed to it in their communities.  The idea of The Gathering also has powerful theological meanings in Latter-day Saint communities, both historically and today. While the principle of the gathering lost its literal and material meanings by the end of the nineteenth century, the Saints kept their personal, theological, and doctrinal connections to Israel.  I am not a scholar of theology, so I'll refer interested readers to Elder Russell M. Nelson's speech The Gathering of Scattered Israel from the 2006 General Conference in Salt Lake City.

My co-workers and collaborators here also chuckle that this exhibit will be the largest gathering of Utah-made pots ever assembled.  I appreciate the double entendre!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Potters of the Gathering

I have mentioned the exhibit we have been working on for the Iron Mission State Park Museum.  Well, the final logo is done!  Our exhibit, Potters of the Gathering: Clay Work in Early Utah, now has a title, logo, and color scheme.  Check it out: 

The design is by Darrin Fraser, the creative director at Mishap Studios.  Their website is here:

Darrin is working hard on the rest of the design.  Ryan and I passed him the exhibit checklist and our layout of the exhibit.  I gave him this scaled floor plan:

The plan map is hard to read at this scale, I know.  But the exhibit will be about 2,200 or 2,600 square feet in total.  Darrin has been visualizing the entire thing for us: color schemes, layout, and design.  He came to our meeting with a 3D visualization of the 2D plan I'd drawn, which really helped me see what he was imagined (below).  He's been great and I'm excited to see more of his design work.

The exhibit will tell the story of the Utah's nineteenth century immigrant potters, using archaeological artifacts, antique objects, historic photographs, drawings, DVD video, and audio recordings.  We have pieces from the three largest collections of antique Utah-made pottery, along with digital video and historic images on loan from The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and the Staffordshire Film Archive.  

I am very excited as the exhibit is coming together.  Gib the carpenter has most of the vitrine cases built and the rest of the staff are painting them now.  The wall panels will go to the printer this week so they can be printed and mounted on boards. 

The exhibit will be open from May 2nd through July 31st, so that means that it will be open the entire time we are excavating at the Davenport Pottery site.  Since Parowan and Cedar City are only about 20 miles apart, visitors will be able to travel back and forth between the gallery and the excavations.  This should give us the ability to layer our interpretive strategy from the site with nuances from the exhibit, and the reverse will surely be true since we have reserved one vitrine case for "The Discovery of the Week."

Things are coming together nicely and excitement continues to build!

Maps, part 2: Archaeometry

People often ask me if I can tell where a pot was made by studying it closely and reading the clues of form, fabric, style, and glaze.  I still have to answer them, "Not yet, not yet."  We are just starting the detailed study of each pottery shop. 

In addition, the problem is really pretty complicated. Right now there seem to be some elements of style that can be attributed to individuals, but we must have caution.  A decorative pattern or shape of form may appear made by one potter in one location, but could be imitated or shared by another potter somewhere else.  Take this example of a decorative pattern which archaeological research showed to be made by Frederick Petersen in Salt Lake City.

 This pattern appears on two antique pots we will exhibit in our show at the Iron Mission  Museum this summer.  Can we conclude that these pots were made by Frederick Petersen?  Not yet.  Even if we assume that all the other potters in Utah refrained from crassly or simply copying each other's decorations and styles, consider these possibilities:

1. Frederick Petersen learned to make pots as an apprentice of his uncle, Niels Jensen.  Frederick, along with Mr. Jensen and his two other apprentices, Jacob Hansen and Frederick Hansen, all immigrated to the Salt Lake Valley in 1852.  The vessel forms the three young apprentices made would have been informed by common elements of style derived from their Danish heritage and their common experience under their master's tutelage.  As the other apprentices grew up and established their own shops, they later worked in Brigham City and Hyrum, Utah. Could they not have shared some common decorative strategies?

2. While not as important in this specific case, we know that clay workers moved around between potteries.  Different potters collaborated at different times.  This means that one person could pick up a decorative technique, vessel form, or glaze type while collaborating and then carry those techniques forward to later work.

3. Of course, we also have many examples of parent-to-child transition of craft practices.  Some families established 'craft dynasties' with multiple generations of potters.  The Roberts family serves as the best example of this pattern, since the generations of this family spread out over the entire state, from Vernal to Panguitch.

So style remains a problematic tool right now for attributing vessels to specific makers.  There will be several examples of these puzzles in the show, including the Petersen example above.  Only a few potters stamped their ware.  Of those those that used maker's marks like on the previous post, they only stamped a fraction of what they made.  

After further study and excavation, we do expect to be able to attribute specific styles to specific individuals or at least pottery shops, but we have another tool to approach this problem: archaeometry.

Archaeometry is an area of scholarship that involves measuring the characteristics of archaeological artifacts, generally using materials science.  In this case, we are using two well-established tools to examine Utah-made pottery, Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (INAA) and Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS).  The details of the technique aren't important to review here, but those curious can find more detail at sites like the Archaeometry Lab of University of Missouri's Research Reactor (INAA here and LA-ICP-MS here).

Both techniques involve measuring the quantity of different isotopes in an object and statically  comparing the ratios of those isotopes.  Each technique measures 33 or 34 different elements and then the lab staff subject the data to multivariate statistics. In the case of INAA for example, we pound small fragments ceramic kiln wasters from each site into a powder, seal them in vials, and drop them into the core of a nuclear reactor (pictured below).  After irradiating them, the samples are put into a detector that counts the unique decay of each isotope in the ceramic fabric.  These counts are very accurate and are measured in parts-per-million (ppm) or parts-per-billion (ppb).

When comparing all that data using computer statistical programs, the lab researchers plot each sample onto a graph in multi-dimensional space, one axis for each isotope.  It is easy to imagine the three-dimensional version.  I put a picture below of a bi-plot using Aluminum and Sodium.  This graph appeared in an article my colleagues and I published in Historical Archaeology in 2007.  As the analyst adds data about more isotopes, they add dimensions and the data forms into 'clouds' where samples with similar ratios of isotopes tend to group together.

The analysts produce these multi-dimensional clouds that result in something like a statistical 'fingerprint' for each pottery.  When doing this type of study, one hopes that the clouds don't overlap very much so that some specific isotopes, usually the rare ones, can be used to argue that a sample goes with one group or another.  If things work out well, when one begins to compare unknown samples (such as an unmarked antique pot) to the known samples (from archaeologically excavated kiln wasters), one can make a statistical argument like, "We are 90% confident that Pot X was made at Pottery Y."

We've been fortunate because our data shows very clear patterns, and with the caution that our sample size is small for multivariate statistics, the results are very promising.  We have completed two studies where we compared archaeological fragments from consumption sites in  Utah and Nevada and the results have been very provocative.  As we map these patterns, we can consider a set of sites like the Muddy Mission, near modern-day Las Vegas.  Most of the ceramic fragments we studied matched those we knew were made in Salt Lake City and another set we think had been made in Provo.  But some of the ceramics that Muddy Mission residents used had been made by Thomas Davenport in Parowan, for example.  Other pieces matched J. J. Hansen's pottery from Hyrum, Utah, 500 miles away on the other end of the Mormon Domain.  (This study is forthcoming in a book called Archaeologies of the American West, edited by Margaret Purser and Mark Warner).

We are very excited by these results.  We expect that as we add more samples to the database, we'll be able to start mapping the extent of distribution of each potteries products in time and space.  In addition, we will start trying to sort out the different routes through which people circulated pottery in the economy: direct market exchange from stores, peddling, neighboring, family gift giving, tithing and poverty relief, and even population migration. 

This is a long term goal for our studies.  It will help us to really understand how individuals and families like the Davenport family managed to make their businesses succeed over their lives in Utah.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Maps- Where did potters live and work?

Utah's immigrant potters left several different countries of origin.  Many left from Denmark and the United Kingdom, particularly Staffordshire and the English Midlands.  Other European-born potters came from Germany and Norway.  Potters also migrated from other parts of the United States, including from New York, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri:

Individual potters could settle wherever they wished, but many chose to take on missions to settle specific towns and regions.  The leaders of the Latter-day Saints sought to settle a chunk of the Rocky Mountain and Great Basin regions of the United States which they called Deseret. Brigham Young and his advisors led "the gathering" of people to the headquarters at Salt Lake City and then organized them into settlement companies sent throughout the region.

This pattern of settlement, guided/directed and open/undirected, led to potters distributed through the area.  Each blue dot in the map below indicates a pottery.  Overlapping dots represent multiple potteries in a single town.  Keep in mind that some of these dots are interpretative arguments- we don't always know who partnered together and who worked independently.  

Latter-day Saints established some potteries outside of Utah's modern borders:

Potteries within the modern political boundaries of Utah:

We are building a "map" of the potter's marks.  The upcoming museum exhibit will present all that we know about the different potter's marks:

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Object of the Week, 4/1/09

This week's remarkable object is a potter's rib from the Eardley's Deseret Pottery site.  A number of different potters were involved in this company, including the three Eardley brothers: James, John, and Bedson.  At times, John Cartwright and Jonah Croxall also worked at this site in Salt Lake City, but during that time the pottery had a different name.

In the 1970s, a Utah State Liquor store was built on the site.  For whatever reason, an archaeological survey was not conducted before construction.  Lucky for modern scholars, Nancy Richards walked by one day.  Ms. Richards was a curator for State Parks and she happened to be researching Utah's nineteenth century potteries.  She was shocked by what she saw in the backdirt and as I have heard the story, she called up to the University of Utah for help.  A group of archaeology students came down and they all spent some time frantically putting fragments of things in boxes.  That collection, which has never been exhibited to the public before, will be a large part of the collection on exhibit.

A potter uses a rib as a carpenter uses a profile gauge.  The rib's shape matches that of the preferred shape of a particular pottery vessel or object.  While the wet shape spins upon the wheel, the potter holds the rib up against the vessel to be certain that it has the desired shape and size.  The rib helps the potter to throw things "freehand" but stay close to a particular size and shape. 

One of these potters wrote on this rib:

The rib is inscribed: "Flower saucer / James Eardley / Bedson Eardley" and on the side, the date "June 18, 1864".  The last number is a bit messy and one could argue that it says nine and not four, but I think it is a four.

This is very cool.

I really like this object because it shows the kind of evidence that can only be taken from objects.  On June 8th, 1864, the Deseret News carried this announcement: "John, James, and Bedson Eardley dissolve their partnership; James and Bedson reform the Deseret Pottery; John forms ‘Sixth Ward Pottery’ with Amos Fielding as agent" (p. 292).

Ten days before this rib was made, three three Eardley brothers broke up the Desert Pottery and one of them set out on his own.  A few years after this, John accepted a mission in St. George and worked there for the rest of his life, along with kilns he operated in Beaver and Panguitch.  

I don't know if the brothers divisions were friendly or strained when they split up in 1864, but the fact that James and Bedson marked this rib with their names implies that this flowerpot design was shared between them, but was not John's.  It also implies that James and Bedson agreed upon this design when developing new products for the new incarnation of the Deseret Pottery.  I believe that also hints that consumers in Salt Lake City cared about the design of their flower pots and that people entering the Deseret Pottery noticed the different designs by James, John, and Bedson, and further distinguished them from other partners in the pottery or other clayworks in the city.

You'll just have to come see this little gem for yourself.

Project in the News

The Utah Pottery Project, the plans for this summer's excavation, and the museum exhibit all appeared in a brief story in the Deseret News.  I've been chatting with some other reporters and I will post any stories here.  Please drop me an email if you see a mention of the project and I'll post your note!

Rapid Progress in the Shop

Gib, our carpenter using the saw in the picture below, and the Iron Mission State Park staff (including Murph, also in the picture) are making rapid progress building new wooden bases to match our Plexiglas and acrylic cubes.  

To stretch our exhibit budget, we are re-using all the display vitrines (commonly called cases). The Church History Museum graciously lent us some acrylic cubes they had in storage, so combined with those we removed from current exhibits at the Iron Mission Museum, we don't need to order any new Plexiglas or acrylic boxes, and are just building new wooden bases for all the boxes.  This is a huge cost savings-- acrylic boxes are expensive!-- so we will be able to put many more items out for display than we could have afforded otherwise.

The floor also looks great, thanks to the efforts of Ray and the maintenance crew here at the Iron Mission Museum!
Things are really coming together!  I'm getting very excited for the opening.