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Swirled slip decorated earthenware bowl

Shop of Rudolph Christ
Place Made:
Bethabara or Salem North Carolina United States of America
Date Made:
lead-glazed earthenware
DIA top: 5 5/8″ H: 2 3/4″ DIA foot: 2 1/2
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Swirled slip decorated earthenware bowl; interior slip is white (looks cream colored with glaze) with manganese applied in lines around the interior of the bowl and swirled in the bottom center; exterior is unglazed; bowl as small lip; bulbous shape tapers gently toward the foot and then more drastically at the foot.
HISTORY: The only extant above ground example of a swirled this bowl, this piece was made in the shop of Rudolph Christ either in Bethabara when he was master there (1786-1789) or Salem when he was master there (1789-1821). Fragments of unglazed waster swirled slip bowls (albeit with multiple colors ( probably copper and iron) comprising the slip) have been found in association with both Christ’s pottery site at Bethabara (Lot B-20) and Salem (Lot S-39).

Critically important to our understanding of this bowl is the fact that in both Bethabara and in Salem the enslaved potter (who later bought his freedom), Peter Oliver, worked with Christ in his pottery. With training from Christ, Peter Oliver became a skilled potter. The January 2, 1789, Elders Conference minutes describing what Rudolph Christ would leave behind when he left Bethabara for Salem after the death of Gottfried Aust note: “It would be best if his successor in Bethabara [Gottlieb Krause] would buy him[ Peter Oliver]. In view of the efforts of Br. Christ with the Negro to bring him thus far in the trade it is fair that he should receive a higher price for him.”

Peter Oliver and Krause did not get along, however, and in 1795 Peter Oliver requested he be allowed to return to Salem to work once again with Rudolph Christ. The Church agreed that Oliver could return to Salem to work in Christ’s pottery. In other words, Oliver, a trained potter, may have been working in the Bethabara or Salem pottery when this bowl was made. His hands could easily have formed its walls as the potter’s wheel turned or held the cup from which the rich manganese tinted slip trickled and was swirled to create the design we find so appealing.

Credit Line:
Old Salem Purchase Fund