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Webster, Chester
Place Made:
Randolph County North Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
stoneware –salt-glazed
HOA: 15 1/8″; WOA: 8 1/2″; DIA: 6 7/16″ mouth
Accession Number:
This salt-glazed jar is attributed to potter Chester Webster when he worked in Randolph County, North Carolina. An incised number 5 on the jar denotes the approximate capacity of the jar. An incised decoration between the two handles depicts a bird carrying a banner with the date 1850. Two handles were placed on opposite sides along the shoulder in order to make what is often referred to as “lug” handles. Made in a wood-firing kiln, the lighter brown color and drips seen on the jar are from a culmination of wood ash that collected on the jar, then melted to make the uneven appearance. This jar also reveals the likelihood that Chester Webster used what is often referred to as a “groundhog kiln,” or cross-draft kiln, because of the directional location of the ash culmination and the lack of kiln furniture marks. The iron-rich color of the clay seen on this jar is often characteristic of many pieces attributed to Chester Webster. Elaborate, incised decoration on North Carolina stoneware in the second quarter of the nineteenth-century was not common, making Webster’s work stand out. The incised decorations found on pieces attributed to Chester Webster include birds, fish, flowers, trees, and geometric patterns.

Salt glazing is a technique used by stoneware potters to create the glassy surface. When the pottery kiln reached over 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, salt was introduced to the kiln, creating a vapor. This vapor adhered to the silica in the clay, forming a glass. From the high temperature, the clay is often non-porous, or vitrified. This, combined with the salt glazing, allowed the potters to not have to apply a glaze to the interior of the vessel. It could hold liquids and not seep, unlike earthenware storage vessels.

MAKER: Born in 1799, Chester Webster was one of several family members who were employed at pottery factories in the Hartford, Connecticut area. Chester Webster moved to North Carolina in 1827, likely joining his brother Edward in Fayetteville before moving to Randolph County. The 1840 census in Randolph County shows Chester Webster and brother Timothy Webster in residence there. Chester Webster did not purchase any land, and was likely working with members of the Craven family in their pottery operations. By the 1850s, Chester Webster was working with Bartlett Yancy Craven, the son of Solomon Craven. B.Y. Craven, as he was known, ran a general store, for which the account book from 1853-1869 survives in the collection of Duke University. Chester Webster appears in the account book for various credits from his work, including making pottery and being credited by the gallon of ware thrown on the wheel. In 1857, Chester made between 3 and 4 cents per gallon. Quincy Scarborough noted that in September of 1857 a note was made for Webster’s work, “that he had turned 1215.75 gallons, averaging 173.68 gallons on each of the seven days he worked.”

Scarborough, Quincy and Samuel Scarborough. “The Webster School of Folk Potters.” Fayetteville, NC: privately published, 1986 and 2009.

Scarborough, Quincy. “The Webster School of Folk Potters.” Journal of Early Southern of Decorative Arts (1984) 36-37.

Credit Line:
MESDA Purchase Fund