Moravian potters in North Carolina made press-molded earthenware for more than one hundred and twenty-five years. The range of forms documented by surviving objects, molds, and references in pottery inventories is far greater than that of any contemporary American ceramic tradition. From smoking pipes to stove tiles, the Moravian potters at Bethabara and Salem expanded the production of press-molded earthenware to include figural bottles and casters, non-figural bottles, and toys. A press mold was usually plaster, consisting of two parts with the exterior design of the bottle impressed (from a model) on the interior of each half of the mold. Once the clay was set up, the molds were removed and the form remained with the impressions of the mold.
Rudolph Christ can be credited for the successful production and marketing of press molded figural wares during his tenure as master of the pottery at Salem
(1789–1821). Rudolph Christ apprenticed under Gottfried Aust in Salem, North Carolina. He established his own pottery in Bethabara in 1786 and worked there until 1789. He succeeded Aust as master potter in Salem from 1789 to 1821. (Ceramics in America 2009) The production of press-molded wares also continued through the tenure of John Holland, who apprenticed under Rudolph Christ and as noted in Moravian records, inherited molds used in Christ’s shop. Rudolph Christ retired in 1821 and John Holland took over as Salem’s third master potter. Although the pottery ceased to operate as a congregational business in 1829, production of press-molded wares continued in the shop of Holland and another Salem, potter, Heinrich Schaffner until at least the middle of the nineteenth century.
Brown, Johanna. “Tradition and Adaptation in Moravian Press-Molded Wares.” CERAMICS IN AMERICA (2009) 105-138.
Erickson, Michelle; Hunter, Robert; and Hannah, Caroline M.”Making a Moravian Squirrel Bottle.” CERAMICS IN AMERICA. (2009): 199-216.
The Moravians who settled in North Carolina were members of a protestant
sect that traced its origin to John Hus, a Bohemian martyr who was
burned at the stake in 1415. His followers subsequently formed the Unitas
Fratrum, or Unity of Brethren, and spread their faith across much of
Eastern Europe. In 1722, Nicholas Lewis, Count of Zinzendorf allowed
members of the Unitas Fratrum to settle on his ancestral land in Saxony
and establish the town Herrnhut. During the second quarter of the eighteenth
century, he became the Moravians’ principal spiritual leader. Combining
aspects of pietism, Orthodox Lutheranism, and enlightenment
thought, Zinzendorf’s theology embraced the belief that members of
congregations should live together in “choirs,” which were segregated by
gender, age, and marital status. Because each member of the sect was
expected to contribute to the spiritual and material well being of the
community, work was considered service to God. When planning settlements
and towns from which to launch their missionary efforts, church
leaders endeavored to promote crafts they deemed advantageous for
their respective communities. w During the eighteenth century, the
Unitas Fratrum established towns in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
Most of these communities were closed to outsiders, who were only
allowed to visit for trade or other practical purposes. Established in 1754
on a 100,000-acre tract called Wachovia, Bethabara was the first Moravian
town in North Carolina. It was also the site of one of the earliest
earthenware potteries in the central piedmont region. The Bethabara
pottery remained in operation from 1755 well into the nineteenth century,
but the center of production shifted after the Moravians built a new congregation
town called Salem in 1766. w The progenitor of the Moravian
pottery tradition in North Carolina was Gottfried Aust, who apprenticed
in Herrnhut, Germany, worked briefly in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and served as master at Bethabara from 1756 to 1771 and at Salem from 1771 to
1788. His work and that of the many potters he trained encompassed an
astonishing range of ware including slip-decorated dishes, British-style
creamware, faience, and sculptural bottle forms. Several of the pottery
lines developed by the Moravians were purely commercial, but slipware
had deep symbolic meaning within that community.
Press Molded Wares and Flasks and Bottles
Moravian potters in North Carolina made press-molded earthenware for
more than one hundred and twenty-five years. The range of forms documented
by surviving objects, molds, and references in pottery inventories
is far greater than that of any contemporary American ceramic tradition.
From smoking pipes to stove tiles, the Moravian potters at Bethabara and
Salem expanded the production of press-molded earthenware to include
figural bottles and casters, non-figural bottles, and toys. Rudolph Christ
can be credited for the successful production and marketing of press-molded
figural wares during his tenure as master of the pottery at Salem
Flasks and Figures
Moravian potters made thrown ﬂasks, bottles, and other utilitarian forms
long before introducing press-molded variants around 1800. During the
ﬁrst quarter of the nineteenth century, the variety of ﬁgural objects listed
in the pottery inventories expanded with each passing year. w A molded
flask with a stylized ﬂower may represent one of the “57 bottles” listed in
the 1810 inventory of the Salem pottery or one of the sixty green bottles
listed in the 1824 inventory. w In 1819 the stock-in-trade of the Salem
pottery included eighty-four eagle bottles and plaster molds for producing
two different sizes. Of the three bottles known to survive, all are the
same size and have green glaze applied on a white slip. The 1819 inventory
also listed one hundred and seventy-five “ladies” in three different sizes.
Children enjoyed press-molded wares specially designed for them including
doll heads to which cloth bodies could be attached. w A ﬁgural form
likely inspired by contact with Native Americans was the so-called
“Indian.” The ceramic Indians listed at 10 shillings each in the 1806
inventory were the most expensive bottles made at the Salem pottery. No
examples of this figure or its molds are known to survive.
Bears, Foxes, and Squirrels
The design of Moravian bear bottles, which initially appear on the 1810
inventory, may allude to that animal’s reputation as a nuisance. On May
16, 1755, the Bethabara diarist recorded “last night a bear ate one of our
best hogs.” Based on inventory references and surviving examples, the
Salem pottery produced only one model of a bear bottle, which depicts
the animal with a slain pig beneath its feet. w The press-molded fox
casters made at the Salem pottery by 1810 depict that animal as a cunning
predator holding a slain chicken between its paws. Only two identical
examples are known, but inventory references suggest that the Moravian
potters produced two sizes. The foxes listed in 1808 were valued at 1 shilling
each, whereas those listed in 1810 were assessed at 6 pence each—the
latter being the same as the smallest ﬁsh bottles. w The squirrel was a
popular pet and the subject of whimsical representation in paintings,
toys, and various ceramic objects in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Two basic types of Moravian squirrel bottles survive: one stands
upright and typically clasps a nut between its front paws; the other leans
slightly forward with its head elevated. These two models were probably
represented in the 1806 pottery inventory, which lists ninety-six squirrel
bottles at 3 shillings 6 pence each and forty-five at 2 shillings each.
(Art in Clay Gallery Guide)