Early Regional Pottery: Q&A with John Case
Greene County Potter Hanged During Civil War
By ANGELA WAMPLER | A! MAGAZINE FOR THE ARTS | June 30, 2009Photography by Jeffrey Stoner and contributed by Case Antiques, Inc.
Q&A with JOHN CASE
What do you find most interesting about the pottery you have collected and sold?
There is a profound mystery afoot regarding the redware from the East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia area. While our region was often considered the "backcountry" in the 19th century in respect to culture, population density, economic conditions, and the arts, we had some of the most aesthetically beautiful pottery forms being produced anywhere in America.
For many years, the earthenware found in our region was considered to have been made elsewhere, because no one could conceive that such complex and artistically beautiful pieces could have hailed from our region. Much of our pottery was attributed to the 18th century Moravians in North Carolina and the even more prolific Connecticut and Southeastern Pennsylvania potters. It was even said that antique dealers in the early 20th century like Joe Kindig from Pennsylvania would come through the region, buy our pottery and other antiques, take them back up North and sell them as "Northern" pieces. Consequently, it is very plausible that there are some magnificent East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia pieces in New England and Mid-Atlantic pottery collections.
We have difficulty understanding how the population from our region could have supported potters making such magnificent and iconic objects. The use of complex copper oxide and manganese glaze decorations with elaborate stamping like we find on Greene County pieces was both time-consuming and expensive. Utilitarian pottery would usually be undecorated, more simply potted, and unglazed or glazed only on the inside. Yet the significant number of elaborately decorated forms with these complex glazes either attests to a population that economically could support potters making such wares or potters who made pottery for the sake of art, despite not being able to be compensated for wares with the extra "bells and whistles."
Some of the more beautiful jars and jugs made by Sullivan and Greene County potters have the artistic and historical merit deserving to be displayed in major museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art as the finest American examples of their day.
I am greatly privileged to be involved with discovering, researching, and recording these great objects.
Any recommendations for new collectors?
While some of the finer examples of redware from our region have sold for large sums of money, many wonderful pieces are much more affordable and can be found in a variety of places, from garage sales to antique shops to auctions. The consignor who previously owned the record-setting J.A. Lowe jar said her children were using it as a waste can. So, you never know where these forms will show up.
While Southern pottery has become very popular in the past few years, much of the pottery from our region still remains undiscovered and largely unknown to the larger market. Consequently, once one learns the pottery forms and glazes from our region, you can often find our pieces when they come available in other regions of the country for modest sums, since it is often misidentified. When A! Magazine does articles like this one, it raises awareness and could end up preserving things in the process. After reading this, people could see similar things in their homes.
Lastly, collecting pottery, especially redware from our region, is exciting because of the sheer diversity of forms, glazes, and decoration on pieces. For example, the diversity of jug forms just attributed to the Cain pottery is vast. There are jugs with extruded handles, pulled handles, sine wave decoration or concentric ring decoration, and different glaze applications. Outsiders who learn of the pottery from our region are often taken aback by the variety of forms produced. This makes collecting area pottery especially fun, since each piece is often markedly different.
Tell us about the potter who was hanged during the Civil War.
Christopher Alexander Haun (1821-1861) was a potter from Greene County, Tenn. Haun was a Union sympathizer during the Civil War and participated in burning a Confederate railroad bridge (Lick Creek) in Greene County. In 1861, Confederate forces captured Haun.
Several potters were among the men who conspired and succeeded in burning the bridge. However, the Union loyalists allowed the guards to go free, based upon their solemn promises to not reveal their identities. Union troops did not materialize as promised, and the Confederates were able to pursue and capture some of the perpetrators. The Confederate guards, who were allowed to live, were the very ones who served as witnesses to implicate the five men who were hangedd, four of them potters. Among those sentenced to hang was Haun.
Haun's pots clearly speak to his having been a master potter. In a letter that Haun wrote to his wife in his last hours, he said, "Have Bohanan, Hinshaw or Low [sic] to finish off that ware and do the best you can with it for your support." It is highly probable that Haun was referring to J.A. Lowe in this letter. The only known decorated J.A. Lowe jar has very similar characteristics to known C.A. Haun jars.
Have there been any recent sites/shards discovered?
We are fortunate that state archeologists have done surveys of several East Tennessee sites. Further, there were recent archaeological excavations of sites in Washington County, Va., with the support of the William King Museum in Abingdon.
One of the more recent discoveries was the Haun-Lowe pottery waste site in Greene County, Tenn. This site revealed shards marked "J.A. Lowe" along with a few "Haun" marked shards. We learned from the shard evidence that Lowe indeed potted in Greene County. Until 2008, no one had ever discovered an intact pottery form marked by Lowe. This all changed when a woman from Nashville walked in our gallery with a magnificent jar marked "J.A. Lowe" — and it sold in our auction for $63,000, a record for Tennessee pottery.
Recently, we learned of another redware potter working in East Tennessee, Benjamin Wine. A beautiful jar had descended through the Wine family and the jar retained an old label referencing being made by the potter.
— Local History of Pottery
Left: This rare piece is currently the only known example of a jar by Lewis Manning Haun, Greene County, Tenn. Its value was estimated between $1,400-$1,600. It sold at auction for $2,250. The cobalt-decorated stoneware (circa late 19th century) is 13-1/2" tall. It is signed "L.M.H." and stamped with a leaf pattern around the handles. Condition: various chips/breaks to the rim, one missing handle, and various firing flaws to the body. Right: This 19th-century stoneware jar is illustrated in the Legacy in Clay: Pottery of Washington County, Virginia catalog and was part of "The Great Road Style" exhibit at the William King Museum, Abingdon, Va. At the time of the 2005 show, this jar was one of only two known pieces signed by James Vestal, the son of potter Jessee Vestal. Valued between $500-$1,000, the 9-1/4" tall jar sold for $1,800. (Photography by Jeffrey Stoner)
Left: This unusual 19th-century redware bottle is believed to be from Southwest Virginia or East Tennessee. It is in very good condition and 5-1/2" tall, flattened on two sides and glazed on the bottom. The sine wave incising around the shoulder, the rim, the glaze voids, and the footed base are associated with the Cain pottery of Sullivan County, Tenn. However, the presence of copper oxide in the glaze and the glazed bottom is atypical for Cain forms. Sine wave redware forms with similar glaze void issues are also attributed to Jesse Henkel of Botetourt County, Va. Valued between $500- $700, it sold for $1,238. Center: This 19th-century jar made in Wythe County, Va., has sine waves around the upper shoulder area and handles with flared edges. In very good condition with small chips to the rim and wear to the handles and base, it is 11-1/2" tall. Valued between $250-$350, it sold at auction for $844. Right: This stoneware jar with a salt glaze is stamped "J M Barlow" and cobalt-decorated with a pair of flowers, with cobalt highlighting the stamped name and size. Barlow was born in 1856 in Virginia and worked in Washington County, specifically in the West Abingdon district (circa 1880). The jar is 13-1/2" tall and in very good condition with a minor chip to the inside rim. Valued between $400-$800, at auction it brought $1,687. A similar, elaborately decorated example may be seen on page 146 in The Great Road Style book by Betsy K. White. (Photography by Jeffrey Stoner)
These two jars look as if they could be contemporary pieces of art, but they are rare examples of pottery created by Christopher Alexander Haun (1821-1861), a master potter who was a Union sympathizer during the Civil War and was hanged by the Confederates in Greene County, Tenn. These priceless pots are now in a private collection. (Photography by Jeffrey Stoner)