Hal was great and a charming host for a couple of hours – their set up is very rustic in a wooden cabin type building with a sales area at the front and a small studio at the back. Hal digs up clay from his own back yard - he dug some up for me and showed me how you can test to see if its a workable clay by wetting it, making it into a sausage shape and wrapping it round a finger to see if it cracks or not and so how pliable it is – if it cracks its not good enough to use. They make pots that are based on the old Moravian style and colours, painting on slip. As soon as we arrived Hal was very excited that we were from England and that I was researching pottery exported from North Devon – he showed me 3 trays of sherds that he has found on his property and wondered where they might be from. There were some sherds of decorative pieces and what interested Hal was the contoured rims of the pieces that had been shaped with a tool of some kind and were unusual because of that. Hal called these ridged- pots and wondered if doing something different with the ridged edges was English? The ridged edges are on the early pieces, he hasn't seen this before. There is also a square kiln on site which is a very unusual shape. Where does this shape come from? Quakers perhaps or something from Pennsylvania? Was it brought with them or did they develop the design here?
Hal and Eleanor have written 3 articles for the 2010 Ceramics in America and this publication is just about to come out – I was lucky enough to be treated to a preview of the articles on Hal's computer as he had copies. I will need to find out about square kilns and ridged pots when I get back to Bideford to see if either of these are of English, maybe even North Devonian descent?!
I also visited Ben Owen the Third at his family pottery, they have been potters since the 1700s also and Ben aged 12 decided he wanted to keep up the family tradition and learnt from his grandfather. There is a museum on site showcasing pieces of pottery from the family history. Ben also chatted to me whilst making pots at his wheel. It was a fascinating piece of history, though I didn't find any relationship to sgrafitto ware or North Devon pottery. Ben's contemporary pieces were very colourful – red and blue ceramics.
Last stop was Westmoore Pottery – I had been advised by a couple of sources to visit the Farrell family as they make reproduction sgrafitto ware. Erik Farrell was in the studio / shop when I arrived which was good fortune because he's a college student for most of his time studying archaeology; but he also decorates the sgraffito pots. It was interesting to see them and Erik's enthusiasm for the technique which he's still learning; it brought home to me just how skilled our Bideford potters are/were. Erik and I swapped book and reference information and he showed me a great book about the De Witt Wallace Collection in Williamsburg – I need to go back to see this on my way back to Richmond at the end of the trip.