The first major North Carolina earthenware survey completed in the United States, Art in Clay: Masterworks of North Carolina Earthenware, opens at the Milwaukee Art Museum
on Thursday, September 2, 2010, and runs through Monday, January 17, 2011. Art in Clay presents groundbreaking scholarship that re-attributes ceramic forms long believed to be Moravian to diverse North Carolina cultural groups.
During the last half of the eighteenth century, artisans of European descent introduced a variety of old world ceramic traditions to the Carolina backcountry. The pottery, consisting of slipware, sculptural bottles, faience, and creamware, was far better in quality than what the early American colonists were producing.
The exhibition will include more than 150 objects by Moravian potters, who trained under, or were influenced by, the great Gottfried Aust, (American, b. Germany, 17221788), a master potter trained in Saxony, Germany, who later found a home in the North Carolina Moravian missionary settlement. The Moravians came to North Carolina as part of their missionary efforts, establishing one of the first potteries in the central piedmont region.
For the Moravians, slipware plates and dishes functioned as reminders of their European roots as well as potent symbols of religion and the cycle of life, said Luke Beckerdite, curator of the exhibition. For other potters and their patrons, decorated earthenware was a means of expressing and preserving their identity in the New World.
Other objects in the exhibition can be attributed to the Loy family, who were French Huguenot descendants who settled in North Carolinas Alamance County. They created pottery decorated with cruciform designs and fleur-de-lis, long considered classic French motifs.
The North Carolina potters created vessels that were not only practical and beautiful, but also significant to their culture and religion during this time, said Beckerdite.