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Water Cooler

Craven, William R.
Place Made:
Henderson County Tennessee United States of America
Date Made:
stoneware –salt-glazed
HOA: 28 1/2″; WOA: 17 1/2″
Accession Number:
Made of stoneware, this monumental salt-glazed water cooler was made by William R. Craven in Henderson County, Tennessee. Inscribed on one side of the cooler is “Maid by WR Craven / and Co July 10, 1847 / Warrented / to be stoneware.” An owl is also inscribed, as well as the word “owl” next to the image of the bird. In addition to two strap handles on opposite sides of the shoulder, two additional lug handles were placed opposite one another against the sides of the cooler. A mark reading “W.CRAVEN” was stamped between the handle junctures along the shoulder. This cooler was made in two parts. First, two large bowl-like forms were made. Once the clay was allowed to dry slightly, these two forms were joined at their widest parts at the location of the crimped band that encircles the piece. To finish the cooler, additional clay was used to form the neck, another crimped band, and the collar of the cooler.

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 into the kiln, creating a vapor. This vapor adhered to the silica in the clay, forming a glassy appearance on the pottery. Because of 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: By 1840 Thomas Craven (1775-1857) and many of his family members had migrated from Randolph County, North Carolina, to Henderson County, Tennessee, including the maker of this water cooler, Thomas’s son William R. Craven (1800-after 1880). William was born in North Carolina but moved with his family to Tennessee in the late 1830s. Three pottery kilns excavated in Henderson County revealed connections with the Craven family and specifically shed light on the development of William R. Craven’s work. Most interesting are the sherds recovered from the kiln sites that have the same crimped band resembling a pie crust. William R. Craven left Tennessee between 1850 and 1860 to move to Denton County, Texas, where he died some time after 1880.

Scarborough, Quincy. “The Craven Family of Southern Folk Potters.” Fayetteville, NC: The Quincy Scarborough Companies, 2005.

Smith, Samuel D. and Stephen T. Rogers. “Tennessee Potteries, Pots, and Potters – 1790s to 1950. Vols. I & II.” N. P.: Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, 2011.

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