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Sweeney, Stephen B.
Place Made:
Henrico County Virginia United States of America
Date Made:
salt glazed –stoneware
HOA: 16 1/4″; WOA: 12″
Accession Number:
The floral decoration on the front side of this salt-glazed stoneware pitcher is a common motif found on pieces attributed to Stephen B. Sweeney and his Henrico County, Virginia, pottery. The decoration is a brushed cobalt blue slip making a single stem, opposing graduated leaves at the base, and a circular blossom at the opposite end. At the lip of the spout is another brushed cobalt blue slip decoration that includes a pattern similar to the blossom, as well as several horizontal lines. The handle terminal and juncture are also brushed with cobalt blue slip. Thrown on the pottery wheel, this robust pitcher has a pulled handle with an indentation at the terminal.

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

MAKER: In 1838 Stephen B. Sweeney (1799-1862) began amassing land north of today’s Route 5 (New Market Road) and east of today’s Bailey’s Creek in Southeast Henrico County. By the 1850s other potters associated with Sweeney’s large operation were his son, Stephen B. Sweeney, Jr., Edward J. Clark, and Walt (Watt) Green, a free black. The properties owned by Sweeney were sold off starting in 1862 after his death, with the largest lot selling to potter David Parr in 1863. Henrico County, including the area outside of Richmond, was home to a number of prominent potters by the mid-19th-century.

Russ, Kurt, Robert Hunter, Oliver Mueller-Heubach, and Marshall Goodman. “The Remarkable 19th-Century Stoneware of Virginia’s Lower James River Valley.” CERAMICS IN AMERICA (2013) 200-258.

Credit Line:
The William C. and Susan S. Mariner Collection