MAKER: In 1854 the John W. Thompson family of Morgantown, West Virginia, advertised the production of their first stoneware. Already prominent in the Morgantown area for their lead-glazed earthenware pottery, by the 1860s the Thompsons were producing distinctive stoneware pots. John W. Thompson (1784-1863) was the founder of the Morgantown pottery tradition, but passed the pottery manufactory on to his son James Jackson Thompson, then later to James’ brother, Francis (Frank W.), and finally to David Greenland Thompson (1821-1890). David Greenland Thompson is credited with many of the distinctive designs and characteristics of the Morgantown stoneware pottery from the 1850s and 1860s.
What distinguishes the Thompsons’ pottery from other producers is patterned, impressed handles; patterned roulette designs; and flourishing cobalt blue decorations. The cobalt decoration, as seen on this vessel, is most distinguishable by the figures of people painted on the surface. This jar has on its front a woman in a large dress and veil, standing, holding a parasol. Pots such as this one decorated with stylized depictions of humans are affectionately called “people pots.” Though this style of decoration is found in potteries in adjoining towns in Pennsylvania, ceramics scholars Dick Duez and Don Horvath note that John W. Thompson was likely the creator of this design. Pots with defining Morgantown characteristics are closely dated before Thompson’s death in 1863. The distinctive patterning and stamping is attributed largely to David Greenland Thompson.
Significant to the Morgantown potters’ work is the survival of their tools in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. The tools, including patterned roulette wheels, beaded capacity stamps, ribs used for rim patterns, and other stamps were collected at the turn of the 20th century by assistant curator of ethnology, Walter Hough.
Duez, Richard and Don Horvath with Brenda Hornsby Heindl. “The Stoneware Years of the Thompson Potters of Morgantown, West Virginia, 1854-1890.” CERAMICS IN AMERICA (2011) 111-137