Published: July 11, 2000
BENNINGTON, VT – The Bennington Museum has opened its new Bennington Pottery Gallery and Study Center, which showcases the museum’s internationally recognized collection of Bennington ceramics. Superlative pottery, rare tools, and historic photographs and documents trace the development of the Norton Pottery (1785-1911) and Christopher Webber Fenton’s United States Pottery Company (1847-1858), which produced pottery for an emerging middle class society seeking decorative and utilitarian art for their homes. The Bennington Museum has the largest collection of ceramics manufactured in Bennington.
Bennington was one of America’s most important centers of ceramic production and invention in the Nineteenth Century. The Norton Pottery produced primarily redware at its inception, but by the early 1800s, was making stoneware jars, kegs and crocks used to hold food and beverages. Like other American potteries, the Norton Pottery began to be mechanized in the mid-Nineteenth Century. As production of the pottery became faster, decoration became more elaborate. Bennington stoneware is noted for its elaborate cobalt decorations, often featuring flowers, bird, or animals. The Norton Pottery declined as domestic stoneware used diminished.
Christopher Webber Fenton, once a partner in the Norton Pottery, began his own company in 1847. The United States Pottery Company, as it became known, was an innovative enterprise that focused on producing decorative objects for the home. Employing as many as 200 workers, the pottery became known for its technical achievements, such as the patent of a flint enamel glazing process.
In addition, the United States Pottery Company was the first American company to produce Parian ware, a fine grade porcelain. The company gained recognition in 1853 when it produced a ten-foot high ceramic monument that was feature at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in New York (America’s first World’s Fair). Over-expansion, rising production costs, and an economic recession forced the closing of the United States Pottery Company in 1853.
The Study Center highlights an extensive collection of pottery as well as copies of primary source documents, photographs, articles and books relating to the Bennington pottery industry. Scholars and collectors will find this area to be particularly useful for research.
The Bennington Pottery Gallery and Study Center was organized by curator of exhibitions Carissa Amash. Consultants included three leaders in ceramic scholarship. Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, curator of decorative arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Ellen Denker, an independent museum consultant, and Susan Myers, curator of glass and ceramics at the National Museum of American History. The gallery was designed by DeNicola Design of West Windsor, N.Y.
The Bennington Museum is the oldest, largest and most active cultural institution in southern Vermont. Tracing its roots to 1875, it opened at its present location in 1928. The museum is distinguished for its quality programs, popular exhibitions and award-winning publications, and is recognized for its galleries devoted to the art of Grandma Moses, Vermont furniture, military materials, and early American fine art.
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