The Pennsylvania German culture is predominate today in Berks County. Although the Counties that comprise the Southeastern part of Pennsylvania also have the presence of the Pennsylvania Germans.
During 1727-1775 nearly 65,000 people had immigrated to Pennsylvania. There were many advantages to come to the New World. One would be able to own more land then they were able to obtain in Europe. They also had the freedom to practice their own religion.
The Pennsylvania Germans had brought their customs and culture from their European homeland to Pennsylvania. This is evident in their craftsmanship and art. When referring to folk art of the Pennsylvania Germans, the time period that best represents that era is between the years 1730-1850. The motifs that are found on Pennsylvania German redware originally came from Central Europe. The styles can be traced back to German, Swiss and Bohemian pottery of the 17th and 18th centuries. They had taken what was familiar from their homeland and simplified the designs. Some designs have religious meanings. Other motifs depicted scenes of people on horse back, playing musical instruments, and the eagle, a symbol of a new found freedom.
The first pieces of redware made were utilitarian in nature and had little to no decoration. Occasionally a pie plate might have a wavy line for decoration, then redware had become more decorated after the 1730’s.
During the 1730’s, the use of sgraffito and slipware techniques were first used on redware had become a common practice among the Pennsylvania Germans. The word sgraffito means to scratch. This technique was accomplished by coating the red bodied clay with a white slip, a mixture of clay and water, that is applied to the surface of the unfired earthenware pottery. The top layer of clay is then “scratched” off to reveal the red color of the clay underneath.
Slipware is the use of the white slip clay to draw or trail lines across the red earthenware clay. Generally the Pennsylvania Germans used white slip clay in the decorations. The slip was very expensive as well as the glaze, so they used it sparingly. They would only glaze the surface of their plates, the surface on which you would eat on.
A tobacco tea mixture for organic and unique form of decoration.
Folk Art Tradition
It is amazing that Pennsylvania German Redware for nearly 120 years had consistently remained unchanged. There was no school or formal education for these potters, this is what makes this so remarkable. Some potters came directly from Europe and had brought their traditions along with them. Some had learn from other potters, journey men that traveled to different potteries throughout the counties. Others were local potters that would produce wares for themselves and a few extra pieces that could be bartered for other goods. No matter who the potter was or how he learned his trade, his passion for design is evident. The Pennsylvania Germans had a distinct style of decoration. No other American Community had reached such great heights and more prolific then the Pennsylvania Germans. After 1850, the production of redware almost vanished, the Industrial Revolution had contributed to mass production and importing. Another contributing factor was that redware was made with a lead glaze and had created health concerns.
Today I carry on the tradition of making redware. My family originally came here in 1732. I am the 9th generation and proud to be Pennsylvania German. It is a honor to be able to keep redware alive for another generation.
*Zettlemoyer Pottery is lead free, oven and food safe*