Courtesy of the South Carolina State Museum
Pottery examples from one of the largest and most important collections of South Carolina stoneware in the United States have just gone on view at the South Carolina State Museum . Tangible History: South Carolina Stoneware from the Holcombe Family Collection will remain on view through Dec. 31, 2010 in the fourth-floor Recent Acquisitions Gallery.
The Holcombe name is very recognizable among South Carolina pottery and decorative arts collectors,” said Curator of Art Paul Matheny. “Until our Difference in Dirt exhibit a few years ago, when it exhibited specific examples of pottery to fill gaps in the exhibit, the family hadn’t shown its collection, begun in the 1960s. We have wanted since them to present a larger exhibit of the family’s significant collection.”
The exhibit highlights samples from the Holcombe family stoneware collection, ranging from exquisite pottery from the Old Edgefield District by makers such as Thomas Chandler to the Collin Rhodes factory, and the highly-recognized slave potter Dave. It also includes significant pottery from the Upstate including the Owensby, Whelchel and Williams pottery manufactories, among others.
Stoneware is fire-hardened clay, so called because it becomes almost as hard as stone after being heated to about 2,000 degrees. Highly collectible, especially the Edgefield pottery, the pots are known for the unique glaze used, a tradition which spread across the South in the 18th century. A few artists in South Carolina still produce this traditional art.
Approximately 50 examples from the Holcombes’ collection are shown, plus several pieces from the Museum’s collection.
“The Upstate potteries were usually seasonal. Potters were farmers until the harvest was over; they made pottery in the off season. These factories were family run, cottage industries. An exception was Edgefield, which had a large number of slaves making pots in the 18th and 19th centuries,” said Matheny.
Other artifacts to be seen include churns, storage jars and jugs, pitchers and other utilitarian pottery iconographic within traditional arts in South Carolina. “One such piece is a huge, 1850s water cooler with a spout at the bottom. The vessel’s thick-walled clay keeps water cool,” said Matheny. “The craftsmanship, skill and decoration on this piece make itthis utilitarian object a work of art.”
“Hopefully, this exhibition will inspire people to recognize this traditional art form that was common in South Carolina and which spread throughout the Southeast,” added the curator. South Carolina was the first state to develop alkaline glaze stoneware, though it originated in Asia.