Thursday, February 25, 2010

Ash Glazes and the Curious Pits

Last week, I arranged for a local glaze technician, Derik Spoon, to stop in and take a peek at some of the broken bits of pottery still out on the table. Long background story short, I took a pottery class at the local arts center, and imagine my surprise and excitement when the instructor informed us that he just moved to the area from a job as a glaze tech with a major producer of glazes available commercially to ceramic artists across the country... He agreed to stop in and take a look at what we recovered.

He immediately identified the type of glaze used on all of the pieces we had out on the table, and what he had to say ran contrary to everything we thought so far. Derik informed us that every piece on the table was glazed with an ash glaze.

Ash glazes, as Derik explained, are the simplest of glazes to make, consisting of processed ash mixed with clay and water. The ash typically is soaked and filtered through water to draw off the majority of the heavy alkali materials (a convenient by-product of this process is lye, a key ingredient for soap making; it would have been a sought-after product in any pioneering settlement with limited contact to larger supply networks), before being mixed with refined clay. Water is then added to the mix, and the mixture is applied to the vessels. Ash glazes leave very identifiable (to a trained glaze technician) markers on ceramics, including pooling or streaking of colors, and often a gritty appearance on the surface of the vessel. The effects of the glaze naturally differ depending on numerous factors such as the type of wood ash used, the type of clay used, the ratio of ash to clay to water, the firing time and temperature, the amount of fly ash in the kiln during firing, and the final cooling time of the wares in the kiln.

This all leads up to a new theory regarding the "random" ash pits located toward the front of the lot and the enclosed area of clay-like hard pack. These areas could very well have been where Thomas and the family were processing ash with various inclusions (bone, bisqued ceramics) for the purpose of color/effect experimentation, before mixing the ash with the refined clay to glaze the pottery. The material in the enclosure could be the refined clay used in the glaze mixture, or a large, ready supply of pre-mixed clay and ash drawn off of the neighboring ash pits. In any case, this is a very exciting revelation, and it offers possible explanations to the question, "What in the world was going on over there?"

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Video of Carol Wright

This short video captures Mrs. Wright's visit to the Davenport Pottery Site in June of 2009.  I am telling her about what the archaeology has taught us about the history of the pottery.  You can see that I am showing her how well her sketch map matched the magnetometry data and our discoveries underground.  I also think you can see her smile at the end.

Mark Dice took part in our field school this summer.  It was his first experience with archaeology.  Mark is a teacher and musician, and he is also a talented media specialist. Mark owns Dice Video and I am very grateful for his help as part of our research team last summer as well as his willingness to share his media kung-fu with us!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Carol Adams Wright, 1908-2009

This weekend, I was saddened to learn that "Christmas Carol" Wright died last October.  I had not heard the news until now, so I set aside a moment in my workday this morning to reflect on Mrs. Wright's contributions to the Utah Pottery Project research effort.

Mrs. Wright was Thomas and Sarah Davenport's great-granddaughter.  Carol was born to Thomas Davenport Adams and Luella Redd Adams on Christmas day in 1909, an event for which she earned her nickname "Christmas Carol."  The potters, Thomas and Sarah Davenport, were Carol's father's mother's parents.  Carol's grandmother's siblings spent their youth working in the pot shop, perhaps also her grandmother at times. Carol's father worked at the shop when he was young and also spent his youth paying amid the shop's ruins before they were torn down.

Carol was practically a living eye-witness with first-hand knowledge of a Utah pottery.  When I first met her in 1999, her memories of her youth and the stories told by her parents and grandparents were still sharp and clear records of the mid-nineteenth century.  She welcomed me into her home and shared all her knowledge with me, at a time when I was a total stranger in the community.  I had simply knocked on her door to ask about the history of empty lot next door.  The sketch map that I drew with Mrs. Wright in 1999 guided our excavations and her stories helped us to find the shop's clay beds.

To the best of my knowledge, she was the last person in that generation in the entire state of Utah.  The last to talk with people that had worked at potting to make a living.  While some may still recall the Ogden or Provo factories of the 1920s and 30s, Carol had living memory from a pioneer-era pot shop.

I will forever be grateful that Mrs. Wright shared her stories with me.  She was trusting, open, and kind when I was a young student-researcher, living out of my old truck, and walking around town with little else except my dusty notebook and enthusiasm.

Rest in peace, Mrs. Wright.  Thank you.

Several Utah newspapers and ABC News 4 printed her Obituary last October, in 2009.