Ceramics were used throughout history, and have been found across the globe from as far back as 20,000 years ago.[1] However, salt-glazed stoneware, a common ceramic product, is not nearly that old. Dating back to the 13th century at least, salt-glazed stoneware spread across Europe and was a dominant form of pottery in the United States by the 19th century.[2] These jugs became prominent in homes and their kitchens, used for storage and containment of beverages or other liquid products.

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Fulper Bros. stoneware Jug, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York. Gift of Preston Bassett, NYSHA Collection, N0277.1962. Photo by Alex Sniffen

This jug in particular, produced by Fulper Bros sometime after 1880, is an example of a primary type of form used in salt-glazed pottery.[3] Fulper Bros. is also known for producing pottery with interesting and unique decorations, and an example of that can be seen on the face of this jug. Three women, each in different pose, are dressed scantly dress in form-fitting bathing suits from the late 19th or early 20th century.[4] Decoration like this was common for Fulper Bros, and it can be seen in a few other of their jugs that they became known for their style. For example, this second jug depicts a female acrobat, and another man who is dressed as a circus ringmaster.[5]

Their jugs are an excellent example of popular stoneware, but the conflict appears when this primarily utilitarian artifact, designed for storage, becomes an object for display in the home. Fulper was a popular potter, perhaps these decorations on display would indicate to friends and family that you are well-off enough to own one of these pieces, not for storage but rather to show. The shapes of these women may also indicate that you supported a specific appearance or were in line with the current fashions, in addition to maintaining your functional home responsibilities.

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Fulper Bros. Acrobat Jug. New York History Blog.

Today, jugs like the ones that the Fulper Bros produced can be considered valuable folk art, produced by artists and potters who may have only worked in apprentice position underneath a master potter. These jugs are now displayed in museums and in other collections, and can be viewed through different lenses depending on the interpreter. Gone is the time when these containers were used prominently in the home, they have now become objects and artifacts of study. After all this time, however, their status as items on display still stands.

Alex Sniffen

[1] Sindya Bhanoo, “Remnants of an Ancient Kitchen Are Found in China.” The New York Times, July 2, 2012. Accessed December 2, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/03/science/oldest-known-pottery-found-in-china.html?_r=0.

[2] G.C.Nelson. ‘Ceramics: A Potter’s Handbook.’ Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., New York. 1966.

[3] “Unique Stoneware Jug Depicting Entertainment Acquired – New York History,” New York History. April 11, 2013. Accessed December 3, 2015. http://www.newyorkhistoryblog.com/2013/04/unique-stoneware-jug-depicting-entertainment-acquired.html.

[4] “History of Bathing Suits.” Victoriana Magazine, Accessed December 3, 2015. http://www.victoriana.com/library/Beach/FashionableBathingSuits.htm.

[5] “Unique Stoneware Jug Depicting Entertainment Acquired – New York History.” New York History. April 11, 2013. Accessed December 3, 2015. http://www.newyorkhistoryblog.com/2013/04/unique-stoneware-jug-depicting-entertainment-acquired.html.

 

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