Saturday, July 02, 2011

Hand-Made Fire Brick

1910 brick-making in Georgia

Through out the past month, I have been making hand-made fire brick for my new groundhog kiln which is under construction. It has been quite a learning curve! Temperatures have run in the upper 90's each day of the past month of June and has slowed work. I am aided by Dr. Mark Newell and Nick Nichols.

Nick Nichols (upper left) and Dr. Mark Newell making fire brick

The fire brick are being made from local kaolin deposits which we dig by hand. We are using a modern pug mill/mixer to process the clay. From there it is gathered up and packed into the wooden molds I made. We are making "sand-struck" brick, which means the molds are dipped in water and dusted with dry sand. The sand helps release the brick from the mold.

brick molds

The fire brick are placed on pallets in the sun to dry. They must be turned often to keep them from warping. Once we make the required amount of brick, they will be stacked into a kiln-like shape with a fire box formed at one end and a chimney at the other. Heat will be gradually built up over several days until they reach about 2,400 degrees F. Once the brick cools, they will be sorted and used in the groundhog kiln construction.
(left) Men building a brick scove or clamp kiln to fire the raw brick, early 1900's

(below) some of our fire brick drying in the sun

Saturday, January 08, 2011

The Big Move!!!

"Get 'em up, move 'em out"!!

After 6 years at Old Canal Pottery in Augusta, GA, I'm locating my pottery works to the old Miles Mill/Baynham Pottery tract near Trenton, SC. This historic site was the location for several potteries from the mid to late 1800's. Some of the previous potters who worked at this site include John Lewis Miles, Willie and Tommy Hahn, JG Baynham, Mark Baynham, Horace Baynham and countless itinerant potters. There is evidence that points to the famous slave potter Dave Drake having worked here. This site is one of the most important pottery sites in the Old Edgefield District of SC and is where most of the 19th c face jugs were likely made by slaves or former slaves. The site is currently under archaeological examination by Dr. Mark Newell. The site was recently featured in the PBS show, the History Detectives and will be featured in several more video productions under way.

In addition to Dexter Pottery, the site is home to the Edgefield Stoneware Research Center. It provides an educational museum, visitors center and training facility for the study of alkaline glazed stoneware. Students will receive hands on experience in the field doing archaeological work. Dexter Pottery will offer workshops in the instruction and the making of traditional southern alkaline-glazed stoneware.

My Old Edgefield-style pottery is made in the same tradion as the originals -- using locally-dug clays, which are hand-turned, then ash-glazed, then fired in a typical wood-fired southern groundhog kiln. My work is 100% authentic.

For your convenience, I've re-posted all of my informative Old Canal Pottery Blogs at my new site, Dexter Pottery. Please drop by my new site and check out my new work, as well as new blogs on southern pottery.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dr. Abner Landrum

Dr. Abner Landrum

Dr. Abner Landrum spent many years in efforts to better the way of life for the citizens of South Carolina. In the process, he saved hundreds of thousands of lives across the entire tier of southern states. Dr. Landrum was an enlightened and educated physician, born in the Edgefield District of South Carolina in 1785 To Samuel B. and Nancy S. Landrum.

Perhaps foremost in Dr. Landrum’s accomplishments was unlocking an ancient Chinese method of stoneware pottery production. Abner made his older brothers partners in his grand pottery experiment. Abner, the Reverend John and Amos Landrum set about experimenting in the production of stoneware pottery as early as 1800. Dr. Landrum had undoubtedly seen the effects of the deadly plague affecting many of the Carolinians of his time; lead poisoning.

The population of the late 1700’s and early 1800’s used a type of earthenware pottery which was sealed with a clear lead glaze. They not only ate off of these plates known as “dirt dishes” but pickled and preserved foodstuffs in large containers made of the same. It was realized by that lead was the culprit in this form of poisoning and that acids (vinegar) seemed to accelerate the process. Since much of the food at that time was preserved by pickling, there were undoubtedly many sick patients, many of them children, whom Dr. Landrum saw. Salt glazing pottery was used in other parts of America, but was a scarce commodity in the south and was desperately needed for food preservation.

a lead glazed redware or "dirt dish"

As an educated and well to do man, Dr. Landrum possessed a library and apparently an extensive one. He seems to have read the autobiography of the famous French ceramicist Bernard Palissy (1510-1589) and read of his valiant but failed attempts at re-creating Chinese porcelain. The closed society of China at that time obviously held great allure for Dr. Landrum. Palissy’s experiments lit a fire in Landrum’s inquisitive mind. He named his fourth child Palissy in honor of the French ceramicist he held in such esteem. Another child of his was named Wedgewood in honor of the famous English ceramicist. Yet another of his children, Manises, was named after the town near Valencia, Spain which was the birthplace of another important ceramic tradition: Majolica or Lusterware. Dr. Landrum had a deep, life-long interest in ceramics.

Bernard Palissy

Armed with the scant information available, Dr. Landrum and his brothers created the first alkaline-glazed stoneware pottery in the New World, combining the techniques of Europe and Asia, and creating a viable alternative to the lead-leaching dirt dishes. All materials needed for the production of this high-fired stoneware were obtained locally. The fall line around the Edgefield District held kaolin clays which were capable of being fired to very high temperatures. By mixing a solution of ashes from the firebox of the pottery kiln, sand and clay together, Landrum discovered the secretive formula for creating alkaline-glazed, high-fired stoneware. Landrum and his relatives set about creating some of the first, true, factories in South Carolina.

alkaline-glazed jar from Pottersville

location of stoneware factories

By the end of the first decade of the Nineteenth Century, Abner Landrum was manufacturing large amounts of stoneware on his property 2 miles north of the Edgefield Courthouse which became known as Landrumsville or Pottersville. A number of skilled craftsman and slaves lived there. His brothers, John and Amos, were making stoneware a short distance away on Horse Creek. It was in these early stoneware factories that the third important element was added to the Asian-European ceramic fusion that Landrum discovered: African-American slave labor. Some 25 or so stoneware factories soon followed in the Edgefield District, most utilizing slave labor.

As early as 1820, Dr. Landrum was also experimenting with horticultural endeavors. He is credited with the first successful grafting and budding of a pecan tree. He took the small, insignificant native pecan and was able to graft it on to the hardy stock of native hickory trees (American Farmer4:7 1822) and start what would later become a huge pecan industry in the southern United States.

Abner Landrum inherited a young slave by the name of Dave. In the early decades of the 1800’s, Dave worked for Landrum at an Edgefield newspaper that Landrum published called the Hive. The Hive was a Unionist-slanted publication which was undoubtedly out of step with the views of the growing Edgefield planter-class. The Hive also carried articles on science and the arts. It seems through Landrum’s kindness, Dave developed into a literate, free-thinking, skilled craftsman who not only worked at the Hive, but also learned proficient skills in stoneware turning at Pottersville. Dave is now world-known for his masterful, large stoneware vessels, many inscribed with contemplative couplet poems he penned on the surface of the wet clay pots. In a time where it was illegal for slaves to read and write, Dave managed his stylus with impunity, signing and dating his often mammoth-sized pots with his name, Dave. Clearly, Abner Landrum empowered Dave with education and exposed him to lofty ideals through his work at the Hive. Dave’s pots were shipped around the state to prominent citizens of the time. Dave’s pots now reside in prominent collections and museums.

The heat of politics evidently became too much for Dr. Abner Landrum in his hometown of Edgefield. He was persuaded by a Columbia, SC group of Unionists to relocate there in about 1830. He started another publication there called the Columbia Free Press and Hive. In addition, he embarked on another manufacturing concern in what is present-day Forest Acres in greater Columbia called Landrum Brick and Pottery on Bethel Church Road. There he settled and built his home. This home is much modified, but still standing today.

Landrum started producing firebrick for fireplaces, boilers and the great furnaces of the growing industrial south. He also produced alkaline glazed pottery for Columbia and for shipment around the south. His son, Linneaus Mead Landrum was active as a stoneware potter and helped run the Forest Acres business. Abner’s daughter, Juliette, married John James Stork of Columbia who took over the brickworks after Abner Landrum’s death in 1859. Their children, Edward Leslie and Robert Manning Stork eventually renamed the brick factory in 1911 to the R. M. Stork Brickyard, where it persisted until 1970. The Brickyard Condominiums were built on the old brick factory site. The original chimney of the Landrum factory is encased inside of another chimney built in 1935 and has a granite memorial marker at its base on the condominium grounds.

brick chimney from brick factory

Edgefield became a training ground for this unique alkaline-glazed pottery tradition. Dr. Abner Landrum’s alkaline glazed pottery spread through the entire southern tier of states as far west as Texas during the late 1800’s, providing millions of safe utilitarian pots and saving countless agonizing deaths among the southern populace due to lead poisoning. In isolated pockets throughout the south, this method of pottery production passed from generation to generation of potters up until the 1970’s. As the world learns of Landrum’s great experiment in ceramics, it seems to be the surviving work of the enslaved potter Dave, (who latter took the last name of Drake in honor of his first master), who is perhaps its best ambassador. The volume of Dave’s work stands as a testament to brilliant Dr. Landrum’s benevolence and sense of justice. Dave’s work must be interpreted and understood through the context of his beloved master and friend, Dr. Landrum. Dave perhaps gave insight into his feelings by penning this April14, 1859 poem on one of his pots: When Noble Dr. Landrum is dead, May Guardian angels visit his bed.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Col. Thomas J. Davies' Palmetto Fire Brick Works

Of all of the 19th Century Old Edgefield District potteries in South Carolina, the Col. Thomas Davies pottery site is one of the lesser known. In 1862, a carpenter and mechanic named Anson Peeler from Bennington, VT talked local cotton planter Col. Thomas Davies into establishing a firebrick factory in Bath, SC on the South Carolina Railroad. Davies provided the capital and slave laborers while Peeler built and managed the operation.

Peeler had been in the Bath, SC area since arriving with William Farrar in 1856 to build the nearby Southern Porcelain Manufacturing Company. Peeler served as head carpenter and built the mold house, ware shed, steam engine shed, woodsheds and all of the other buildings at Southern Porcelain Co.

William Farrar's residence was located at the Southern Porcelain site and was described in an Augusta, GA native's diary entry as quite elegant. Peeler probably built this structure and the workman's houses that sprouted up in the now vanished town of Kaolin, SC. Peeler had worked alongside Farrar while he was at the United States Pottery Company in Bennington before coming south. Peeler obviously possessed or gained a working knowledge of refractory and the kaolin clays surrounding both Bath, SC sites in the 6 years he had been around. Southern Porcelain Manufacturing Company also made firebrick in the short years they were in operation, including the incuse, stamped bricks that have been found, so Peeler had knowledge of the process. He brought the Palmetto Fire Brick Works into successful operation.

Recently, two brick have been found that seem to be a product of the company Peeler and Davies started. The incuse embossing on both brick is identical:



Records show that the Palmetto Fire Brick Works was pressed into service during the Civil War years making crude utilitarian wares including jugs, jars and cups for the Confederate hospitals. Ceramics historian and author Edwin Atlee Barber interviewed Col. Davies at his home and saw examples of the wares made at Palmetto Fire Brick Works. Barber notes in his 1898 book Pottery and Porcelain of the United States that Davies' bricks were marked "Bath, S.C. Firebricks" and that they were equal in quality to any that had been imported". Barber notes the bricks were used extensively in the great furnaces of the south in manufacturing ordnance and in powder works, the closest being the Confederate Powder works a few miles away on the Augusta Canal.
Augusta Powder Works, Augusta, GA
Barber also states the company grew quickly and manufactured crucibles and tiles for gas works. Barber talked at length with Col. Davies about the face jugs that the African slave workers began to produce there. He noted the kickwheels and long, horizontal kilns used in ceramic production at the works. He described the glaze on the pottery as a mixture of sand and ashes, which were black or brown, clumsy, but strong and admirably adapted for the needs of the time. Barber notes that production was suspended at the end of the war and that Davies then engaged in mining kaolin and china clays. The clay beds used by Davies and Southern Porcelain Company were some of the finest of the area's kaolin belt. Today, it is known as McNamee Clay and is prized in the manufacturing of numerous items, from porcelain to tires.