Utilitarian Pottery or Modern Art: Mocha and Related Dipwares, 1780–1840

Donald Carpentier, Eastfield Village

Sunday, February 20, 2011Mini-exhibit: 12:15pmLecture: 1:00pmGould Theatre, Palace of the Legion of Honor
Legion of Honor
English baluster form cream jug ca. 1780

English baluster form cream jug ca. 1780 with combed surface marbled slip design

Burslem dipped ware sherds, ca. 1795–1835

Burslem dipped ware sherds, ca. 1795–1835, found on a potters’ site in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, U.K.

Large English cider jug, ca 1830

Large English cider jug, ca 1830 with colored slip bands and looping earthworms

English Mocha Jug ca. 1830 with dendritic landscape decoration

Small English jug, ca. 1830, with colored bands of slip and a landscape decoration made with a dendritic decoration of underbrush and trees

English mocha tankard, ca. 1830–40 with dendritic designs

English mocha tankard, ca. 1830–40 with dendritic designs in the central panel and wavy white slip lines on the dark brown bands top and bottom

English mocha pepper pot, large jug, and mug

Three English mocha items, ca. 1820-1840 (from left to right): small pepper pot with looping earthworm designs; large jug with earthworm decoration; and mug with horizontal twig decoration

Restoration of the 1793 William Briggs Inn, in 1989, lead Don Carpentier to another career, reproducing historic pottery. The first pottery from Eastfield Village was based on sherds recovered from archaeological excavation of the inn’s original site. He decided that mocha, or slip-decorated and lathe-turned earthenware, was the most appealing pottery that would have been used in a village like Eastfield. Mocha still retains its charms, bright colors in interesting combinations and beguiling abstract designs that could rival Jackson Pollock for imagination.

Don Carpentier’s decision to focus on production of mocha wares, however, was not guided only by mocha’s continuing appeal to contemporary consumers. He has the original ledger books for the general store in his village; entries reference mocha and “dipt” wares. Archaeological excavation, historical research and experimentation have also fueled Don Carpentier’s ongoing research project into the tools and processes of 18th and early 19th century pottery production. Although initially specializing in early mocha and dipped wares, pottery production has expanded to include creamware, pearlware and Whieldon-Wedgwood tortoiseshell wares.

New manufacturing techniques permitted English manufacturers to offer American consumers an increasing variety of eye-catching “fancy” wares. Refined, slip-marbled pottery was produced as early as the 1770s?—?but was initially used for high-end items that imitated stone vessels.

Josiah Wedgwood developed ‘engine-turning’ machines in the 1760s and 1770s that cut away the surface of ceramics in predictable?—?and pleasing?—?geometric patterns. Wedgwood’s lathe was developed with the assistance of Matthew Boulton, a talented machine maker from Birmingham. (Janine Skerry from Colonial Williamsburg will present “Matthew Boulton?—?Manufacturer of “what all the world desires to have” on May 11.) One important aspect of Mr. Carpentier’s research project has been to create a functioning copy of Josiah Wedgwood’s 1768 engine-turning lathe. Don’s skills as a tinsmith and blacksmith also enable him to fabricate tools to assist him in pottery production. For instance, he has made rouletting wheels that impress bands of different patterns around cylindrical pots as they turn on a horizontal lathe.

Ceramics with marbled glazes were first imported into America in 1781. These glazes were often combed, before glazing, to increase their visual liveliness. Several slip decoration techniques were used to create these “fancy” wares: marbling, combed marbling, engine turning, trailing, dipping and dendritic painting (creating a tree-like design from a combination of tobacco juice and urine, applied to the biscuit body before glazing). The earliest dated piece of mocha ware with dendritic decoration is dated 1799. A multi-chambered slip spout cup was used to create “cat’s eye,” “worm” (or cable), twig and seaweed designs.

These colorful glazes and slips on ceramic bodies had a parallel in “fancy” painting on furniture. (Sumpter Priddy spoke to the Forum about “American Fancy, 1790–1840” in July, 1995, and “American Fancy: Exuberance in the Arts, 1790–1840,” in May, 2005.) The height of mocha’s popularity?—?and creative energy in design?—?was in the period of 1820–1840 when “fancy” ruled America’s imagination in the decorative arts.

Come early for Don Carpentier’s The Treasures of Spode lecture, and find a parking space more easily. Museum members are admitted to the museum free, but others are responsible for admission fees. Admission to the lecture is free to ADAF members, Ceramic Circle members and the general public.

12:15pm mini-exhibit

If your pottery was meant for the table, it was meant for the mini-exhibit table. A place setting will “serve” you well. Bring a plate, a cup-and-saucer, teapot, platter or soup tureen.


Gould Theatre, Palace of the Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, San Francisco. Enter at the west side lower level near the café, or through the main entrance for day-time events.