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]
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.
The standard utilitarian forms were pitchers and jugs. Pitchers were short and fat, with wide mouths, usually used to serve milk;
Jugs were round and bulbous with narrow mouths, usually used to store and transport liquor.
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.
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.