January 29, 2021

Flowerpot Friday - 18th Century Flowerpots

By Peter Wakefield Jackson
Flowerpot Friday - 18th Century Flowerpots

Working as a "one-man-band" in my studio has its pluses and minuses.


On the plus side, I get to make all the pots, instead of trying to manage a group of potters and other workers. Making the pots, (not managing potters) is the fun part of the job, and having my hands in clay is one of my favorite things. I love the physicality of moving clay on the wheel, working with it, (and sometimes against it) to make the form I have in mind. There is nothing quite like the productive feeling of turning a big pile of clay into a full cart load of pots with the right form.


225 lbs of clay, (Eighteen 12 1/2 lbs. lumps) turned into nine 25 lbs. Williamsburg pots


On the minus side, working by myself, I have to do it all. I throw, finish, fire, pack and ship each pot, and manage the orders coming in through my website. Fortunately, I like all those facets of making and selling pottery, and I'm happy that I'm not stuck in just one of these tasks all the time.


I've recently started working on a "Pre-Order" model, where I select a grouping of pots to offer, take the orders, and then deliver on a date 6 weeks or so in the future. This allows me to spend 2-3 weeks just throwing pots. Then another 1-2 weeks where I'm finishing and firing pots, as I continue to make a few more. The final 2 weeks of the cycle is packing and shipping out the orders. Once that cycle is completed, I launch a new round of Pre-Orders and start the cycle again.


My Early Spring Pre-Orders are centered around horticultural terracotta inspired by flowerpots that were used to transport plant species in the 18th century, and hand thrown flowerpots that were made in huge volume in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Red Terracotta Early Spring Pre-orders




This shape is inspired by flowerpots found in a 1995 archaeological excavation of a colonial cellar in Williamsburg. While flowerpots were surely among the most prolific types of ware made by potters, it is rare to have more than a few fragments of centuries old examples. However, when the site of the John Page house, which had burned to the ground in 1727 was excavated, eighteen nearly complete flowerpots were found in the cellar. John Page was an eminent man in the Virginia colony, and is thought to have maintained a well landscaped plantation. The love of formal gardens was imported from England to America in the 17th and 18th centuries, and having such a garden was considered a badge of rank among Virginia gentlemen.

An analysis of the clay in these flowerpots shows it to be of English origin, and the shape and style of the pots indicate they were made around the city of London. Most likely, these very pots had been transported to the colonies holding plant and tree specimens that were to be propagated in Virginia.


Left: 18th century pots excavated from the John Page house in Williamsburg.


For more information:

A Cache of Eighteenth Century Flowerpots in Williamsburg


Bartram's Garden


John Bartram (1699-1777) was a naturalist and explorer who is considered "the father of American botany". He collected plant specimens from travels all along the eastern part of colonial America. He established a botanical garden near Philadelphia, and was friend of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and others who would later be known as our "founding fathers".


The original garden consisted of 102 acres between the the city and the Schuylkill River, with a greenhouse constructed in 1760.


My Bartram pots are inspired by pottery sherds unearthed at Bartram's Garden. I owe my introduction to Bartram to Guy Wolff, with whom I worked for many years. When we were making the Guy Wolff white clay line for Smith & Hawken in the early 2000's, they brought Guy to the Philadelphia Flower Show to do a throwing demonstration of historically inspired flowerpots. Of course we had to make a visit to Bartram's Garden, which is now a veritable oasis in what has become a gritty industrial part of the city, between the Schuylkill River and downtown.