Early Regional Pottery
An Interest in Early Furniture Becomes a Passion for Southern Decorative Arts
By ANGELA WAMPLER | A! MAGAZINE FOR THE ARTS | June 30, 2009Photography by Jeffrey Stoner and contributed by Case Antiques, Inc.
When John Case sold a piece of redware pottery for $63,000, it set a record for Tennessee pottery sold at auction. And it created quite a buzz in the news — especially for people who love these jars.
Case is no stranger to historic pottery or other antiques, but he wasn't always passionate about either one. He grew up "navigating" his way around antiques and collectibles in his parents' home and their antique and estate sale business in Kingsport, Tenn. "At the time it seemed like such a pain to have things like that around, and I'm sure I crashed my fair share of objects," he says.
"I'm almost embarrassed to say this, but I really cannot give myself credit for recognizing the beauty of East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia decorative arts. The credit goes to my mother," Mary Jo Case, whom he describes as "the consummate collector/dealer."
Today, John Case is the owner of Case Antiques, Inc., in Knoxville, Tenn. He has more than 15 years experience researching and evaluating American antiques and art, with a specialization in early southern decorative arts. He appraises and auctions international art, silver and porcelain and specializes in southern decorative arts with a specific focus on Tennessee. This month, he is scheduled to lecture on regional pottery at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA).
Case is a member of the Appraisers Association of America (AAA) in the following categories: Furniture & Decorative Arts; European and American Ceramics, and Folk Art. In addition to his appraising credentials, he also holds an auction gallery license from the state of Tennessee.
"Regional Pride Started Creeping In"
"When I went to college at Duke University, I remember being teased about being from Tennessee — you know, living in barns, having outhouses and dirt floors, playing with pigs," he recalls. "My New England classmates had the perception that I lived in the 'backcountry' and grew up in an un-cultured environment."
Feeling defensive, Case began reading The Art and Mystery of Tennessee Furniture by Derita Coleman Williams and Nathan Harsh (1988) and began to realize that " phenomenal pieces of furniture that I had assumed were made in New England were actually from our area...and regional pride started creeping in."
His interest in early furniture turned into a passion for southern decorative arts. "My mother encouraged me and was only too happy to see that," he notes. "I began studying these things, walking around [my mother's] 'living museum,' finding and discovering more about regional artisans. It's also where I was exposed to regional pottery."
— Q&A with John Case
Left: Two pieces were made by Jessee Vestal in the Osceola region of Washington County, Va. (circa 1850-1865) Right: A jug attributed to E.W. Mort of Alum Wells, Washington County, Va. (circa 1880-1893). (Photography by Jeffrey Stoner)
Left: An ovoid jar incised with the initials "A.V." (circa 1800- 1820), from Washington County, Tenn. Top Right: Inkwell believed to be from Washington County, Va. Bottom Right: Crock stamped "J.W. GARDNER & CO CRAIGS MILLS VA" (circa 1867-1893). (Photography by Jeffrey Stoner)