Archive for October, 2009

“Rebecca” Pitchers

October 25, 2009
1930s Rebecca Pitcher by Log Cabin Pottery (signed).  The tall narrow form identifies it; the handle is more practical than most, and would have fit into the kiln much better than the J.B. Cole-style tall looped handles..

1930s Rebecca Pitcher by Log Cabin Pottery (signed). The tall narrow shape and flared spout identifies it; the handle is more practical than most, and would have fit into the kiln much better than the J.B. Cole-style exaggerated loop handles..

The blog “Potters for the N.C. Pottery Center” has an interesting and useful new post about “Rebecca” pitchers, which were one of the most popular products of local potters during the “art pottery” era of the 1930s and 40s.  Go to their blog entry here.

The name comes from the Biblical story of Rebecca at the well of Nahor in Genesis, Chapter 24.   Isaac, son of Abraham, was old enough to marry, and Abraham sent a servant to the city of Nahor in Mesopotamia to find a suitable young woman.  The servant arrived at the local well with ten of Abraham’s camels, and planned to ask the young women of the city for a drink of water.  Any one who not only gave him a drink, but poured water for the camels, would be the one sent by God for Isaac’s wife.

“Rebecca, who was born to Bethuel… came out with her pitcher on her shoulder… And she went down to the well, filled her pitcher… And the servant ran to meet her and said, “Please let me drink a little water from your pitcher.”  So she said, “Drink, my lord.”  Then she… let down her pitcher and gave him a drink.   And when she had finished… she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking.”  then she hastened and emptied her pitcher into the trough, ran back to the well to draw water, and drew water for all his camels.  [verses 15-20]

Rebeccas from the 1940 JB Cole catalog.

Rebeccas from the 1940 JB Cole catalog.

The form was one of the most popular products of the J.B. Cole Pottery on the border between Randolph and Montgomery counties.  Their 1940 catalog displays many different sizes and several different forms of Rebecca pitcher (see the catalog here).   The children of J.B. Cole, Waymon and Nell, both lived in Randolph county and were familiar figures at the pottery for more than 60 years; they both made Rebecca pitchers large and small and in a myriad of different glaze colors.

Rebecca jugs were one of the first forms which were “just for show,” meaning that they had no day to day use.  The tall, narrow shape and impractical tall looped handle of the jugs were impractical for almost any method of dipping and carrying water in rural North Carolina.

Stoneware milk pitcher (signed), made by my great-grandfather W. Henry Chrisco.

Stoneware milk pitcher (signed), made by my great-grandfather W. Henry Chrisco.

The standard utilitarian forms were pitchers and jugs.  Pitchers were short and fat, with wide mouths, usually used to serve milk;

Stoneware jug made by the Taylor pottery in Petersburg, VA.

Stoneware jug made by the Taylor pottery in Petersburg, VA.

Jugs were round and bulbous with narrow mouths, usually used to store and transport liquor.

Islamic ewer from Iran, ca. 700 AD.  Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Islamic ewer from Iran, ca. 700 AD. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The shape of a Rebecca pitcher is that of a “ewer,” an ancient ceremonial form with a single tall handle and a flaring spout.  This was definitely NOT a traditional North Carolina form, and was probably copied from Sunday School literature which illustrated archeological forms.

Modern Rebecca Pitcher by King's Pottery.

Modern Rebecca Pitcher by King's Pottery.

The form is still offered in some fashion by most of the Seagrove area potters.  Here’s one from King’s Pottery, which has their website here.

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Carrara Glass

October 23, 2009

A lot has been happening lately that has gotten in the way of me writing here, so I’m posting this entry while I finish up some longer ones…

[Jones Dept. Store, 108 Sunset Ave; the building now houses Republican Headquarters. To its right is Baker’s Shoe Store.]

[The squares of black glass are striped with duct tape to prevent breaking.]

Late this summer as we moved back into my office at 19 S. Fayetteville Street, I found a workman removing the last pieces of broken tile from the entrance of the restaurant next door.

[Broken black Carrara glass, looking like a mirror.]

That wasn’t just any tile, however; it was a half-inch-thick reflective glass, technically called “pigmented structural glass” and called here locally “Carrara Glass”. Asheboro’s Sunset Avenue was once covered with the stuff. The photo at the head of this post shows Jones Department Store (probably taken in the early 1960s), and not only that store but the storefronts to both sides are covered in black Carrara Glass.

[The round dollops of glue visible on the back of the panel below kept the tile adhered to the brick wall.]

Pigmented structural glass seems to have been first produced in 1900 by the Marietta Manufacturing Company as a “substitute for marble.” Marietta’s product was called “Sani Onyx,” and was used as a hygienic lining for refrigerators. Penn-American Plate Glass Company rolled out a white and black product in 1906 they called “Carrara Glass,” named for the glass’s close resemblance to marble mined in the Carrara quarries of Italy. Before 1910 Libby-Owens-Ford Glass began production of their own version called “Vitrolite.” The first prominent interior use of pigmented structural glass was in New York’s 1913 Woolworth Building, where architect Cass Gilbert sheathed the restrooms with Carrara Glass.

Pigmented Structural Glass hit its popularity height during the 1920s and 30s, when it became synonymous with the streamlined Art Deco and Art Moderne architectural styles. From the sleek Hollywood musicals of the 1930s, to storefronts all across American Main Streets, Carrara Glass and its siblings fit the bill for slick, streamlined, shiny, materials suitable for interior and exterior use. Asheboro’s Belk Department Store, the largest commercial building built downtown in the 1930s, used Carrara glass exclusively on its façade (destroyed in a 1962 fire).

The many smaller Asheboro storefronts which exhibited Carrara Glass in various colors and shades (though Black and White were always the most popular) speak to the versatility of pigmented structural glass for updating older commercial buildings. By 1940 the commercial buildings in downtown Asheboro were all between 25 and 40 years old; as they were remodeled, each began to sport modernized street level facades using chrome, stainless steel, and Carrara Glass. This transformation was encouraged by New Deal programs from the Federal Housing Administration which granted low-interest insured business loans for remodeling, and structural glass veneers became synonymous with a desirable “modern look”. This uniform Art Deco “look” or design style grew out of a “Modernize Main Street” competition sponsored in 1935 by the Architectural Record magazine and Libby-Owens-Ford Glass, and judged in part by architect Albert Kahn.

Almost all of Asheboro Carrara glass has been lost in the last 20 years; those Art Deco/ New Deal remodeled facades have been been remodeled again and again. Though the original buildings have been preserved and reused, the “contemporary” style familiar to several generations of county residents has vanished.

For much more information, see the National Park Service Preservation Brief on “Preservation of Historic Pigmented Structural Glass” and “Our Vanishing Vitriolite”.