by Alfred R. Frankel, M.D.
There has been some beautiful
pottery made here in Florida, some of it as good as any made
at the Newcomb or Rookwood potteries and not many people know
The story of Old Florida Pottery
began for me in 1986 when friends, who were pottery dealers,
showed me two pieces of Florida pottery. One, a candlestick,
brownish in color, unglazed, with a Florida palm tree decoration,
was marked: Manatee River Pottery, Inc., Bradentown, Florida.
The other was a small, smooth white vase with a hand painted
Florida lake scene and inscribed on the rear of the vase was
Souvenir Subtropical Midwinter Festival, Orlando, Florida. The
pottery had a warmth and beauty that spoke to me of a time in
Florida that is long gone. I bought the pottery.
There are two types of Old
Florida Pottery, utilitarian and decorative. In the days of the
Florida frontier, before the advent of refrigeration, people
needed to preserve, store and carry their food. Meat had to be
salted, butter churned, milk and water stored and cooled, vegetables
pickled, jam preserved and faces washed. The pots, churns, jugs,
jars and water coolers needed to survive in the Florida wilderness
were all made out of state, transported by boat to Jacksonville,
St. Augustine and Pensacola, and then moved by barge or cart
to small communities for distribution. A tiring and expensive
In response to this added
cost the first pottery in the state was opened at Knox Hill,
near present day DeFuniak Springs, Walton County, in 1859. Knox
Hill was the social center of the area and the location of the
Knox Hill Academy. The Academy, started in 1848 by the Reverend
John Newton, was the educational center of west Florida. Students
came to Knox Hill from Pensacola, Vernon, Marianna, Quincy and
some from wealthy families in Alabama and Georgia.
The Knox Hill Pottery was
started near the Turnlee Spring on Knox
Hill by M.M. Odom and Robert Turnlee. Turnlee provided
the money and the land and Odom was the potter. The Knox Hill
Pottery produced alkaline and salt glazed pottery typical of
that made in the south in the early 19th century. Florida had
been a state just fifteen years when the Civil War tore the Union
in half and this was probably responsible for the closing of
A Crary two gallon jug with applied
handle and matching lid. Albany & Bristol glazes and gold
band about waist. Stamped: Crary Pottery, Bluff Springs, Florida.
With the beginning of the
Civil War, Henry York, a family man from Lake Butler, just north
of Gainesville, along with many young men from the Gainesville
area, enlisted in the Seventh Florida Infantry. Moving out west,
York and the Seventh Florida served gallantly at Chickamauga
and Missionary Ridge. At Misssionary Ridge this little
force (with Captain York leading A company) under the frown of
such horrid front remained defiant...and amid the peril of capture...found
a lodgment in the trenches at the foot of Missionary Ridge ...ordered
that it hold... at all hazard. York was shot through the
left chest but survived. Years later in 1888, after being elected
Clerk of the Court and chairman of the County Democratic Party,
York began the second pottery in Florida. The York Pottery produced
salt glazed stoneware
that looks very much like majolica.
A vase with waterfall, 5 3/8"
at the base & 13 1/2" high. Marked on the base: The
H. A. Graach and Son Art Pottery, Bradentown, Florida. Circa
1921-1922. Courtesy Manatee County Historical Society.
After the Civil War, in 1869,
a young man from Detroit, Michigan, John W. Kohler, moved to
Pensacola, married the daughter of the lighthouse keeper and
opened the Southern Pottery Works on Eight Avenue in downtown
Pensacola. Kohler spent the next thirty-five years producing
utilitarian pottery for the southern market. Most of Kohlers
production consisted of unglazed terra-cotta dishes, jars, flower
pots, funeral urns and jugs ranging in color from pale tan to
reddish brown. Glazed and signed examples do survive. Kohler
stopped production about 1908.
A few years later, in 1914,
Mary Ward, a redhead with two children, moved to Bradentown.
An active, intelligent woman, Mary started the Manatee River
Pottery in her home. Clay was dug from the Manatee River and
transported back by mule. Marys children helped prepare
the clay by stomping on it barefoot in a large clay screen. The
first pottery was unglazed because the kerosene kiln could not
reach the required temperature for firing glazes. In 1915 Mary
convinced the leaders of the city to finance the Manatee River
Pottery. The pottery produced unglazed vases, candlesticks, wall
pockets and lamp bases, all hand decorated with Florida scenes.
In 1921 Mary sold her interest
in the Manatee River Pottery to potters from Kolding, Denmark,
Henry A. Graack, Senior and Henry Junior. Mary moved to Orlando.
The Graacks changed the name
of the pottery to Graack Pottery and continued production in
Bradentown with plans for national distribution through the Manufacturing
Jewelers Export Company, Inc. of New York City. A few years later
the Graacks left Bradentown, Henry Senior to return to Denmark
and Henry Junior leaving for New York City. The younger Graack
would return to Florida in a few years.
Mary Ward, with the help of
the Orlando Chamber of Commerce and some of Orlandos leading
citizens, started the Orlando Potteries in 1921. Experienced
potters were brought in from East Liverpool, England, and Mr.
Hunt, from the Rookwood Pottery in Ohio. There were six artists
at the pottery including Joseph Nash, Andrew De Vries and Panos
Booziotes, all graduates of the Art Institute of Chicago, and
T. Riggs of the Art Students League of New York. This was a serious
Pottery produced in Orlando
is similar to pottery make by Mary Ward and the Graacks in Bradentown,
but there are some important differences.
About the time Mary Ward and
the Graacks were busy in central Florida, Addison Mizner, an
unknown but talented architect who would eventually become one
of the recognized geniuses of America architecture, came to Florida.
Mizners bad leg and his friendship with Paris Singer, heir
to the sewing machine fortune, led to the two men visiting Singers
Palm Beach cottage in 1918 for some sun and rest. The men decided
to build a hospital for World War I veterans but, when the war
ended, they began plans for the Everglades Club. Soon Mizner
was designing homes for Palm Beach residents, including the Stotesburys,
the Vanderbilts and the Wannamakers.
Henry Graack, Jr., at his wheel. Silver Springs,
Ocala, Florida. Circa 1935-1966. Photo by Mozert, Florida's Silver
To build a
hospital or a mansion in Florida in 1918 was not an easy task.
Supplies had to be brought from hundreds of miles away. Mizner
started Mizner Industries to produce the floor and roof tile,
pottery and furniture his homes needed. Los Manos Pottery, a
division of Mizner Industries, was started in 1919. Red clay
was brought in from Georgia and Georgia crude kilns assembled
near the railroad tracks in West Palm Beach. Los Manos Pottery
produced small wheel-thrown pottery and large pots capable of
Joseph A. Kohler moved to
St. Petersburg sometime before 1916. In 1918, Mary Ward, probably
trying to expand her market, opened a small shop displaying Manatee
River Pottery in downtown St. Petersburg. Joe Kohler, the son
of Floridas longest surviving potter, John W. Kohler, must
have noticed her work. Joe Kohler started the Kohler Ware Florida
Pottery in St. Petersburg in 1920. Pottery produced in St. Pete
was very much like Manatee and Graack and Orlando pottery, but,
again, with important differences.
In 1935, Henry Graack Jr.,
who had left Bradentown in 1924, was making pottery at Ft. Ticonderoga
on Lake Champlain in upstate New York, when he was invited to
Ocala, Florida and the Silver Springs by William Rae, owner of
the springs. Graack spent the next thirty-one years, until his
death in Ocala in 1966, making souvenir pottery for tourists
at the spring.
The invention of the Mason
jar, mass produced glass bottles and the tin can all lead to
the end of utilitarian pottery production in this country. In
1929 the Great Depression hit and many factories closed.
In 1933, John Crary II and
his sons, John W. and Martin Crary, were trying to earn a living
from their general store in Bluff Springs, up in the panhandle
north of Pensacola. Another source of income was needed. With
the depression the Crarys found people needed the same
food storage vessels used by early Florida settlers. The Crarys
used bricks from an old family brick yard to build a kiln and,
spending some $4.50 for turnings, they were in the pottery business.
The Crary Pottery at Bluff Springs produced Albany slip and Bristol
slip utilitarian pottery from 1933 to 1939. The pottery is impressed:
Crary Pottery, Bluff Springs, Florida.
In 1949, Royal Hickman, one of Americas leading
ceramic designers, moved to Clearwater Beach from Chattanooga,
Tennessee, planning on retirement. Hickman bought a boat, the
Royal T, and soon found himself very bored. Hickman purchased
some land on Nebraska Avenue in Tampa, near present day Fowler
Avenue, and started Royal Hickman Limited.
Fighting Stallion Lmap. Paper
label reads: Royal Hickman, Pretty Crystal Glaze. Royal Hickman,
Ltd., Tampa, Florida. Circa 1950
The Tampa plant, with thirty
employees, produced some of Hickmans best designs including
flamingo flower holders, pelican wall pockets and ashtrays, vases
in the form of shells and magnificent lamps. The pottery burned
to the ground just before Christmas, 1952. The pottery is marked
on the base: Royal Hickman, Florida.
Turnlee and Odom, John and
Joseph Kohler, Henry York, Mary Ward, the Graacks, Addison Mizner,
the Crarys, Royal Hickman. The list is an honor roll of creative
Florida potters. But there is still one more potter whose story
needs to be told.
A few years ago I got a call
from a friend, another Florida collector in Micanopy, who told
me about the Merritt Island Pottery. I had known about the pottery
but had assumed that it was a contemporary pottery started in
the 1960s or 70s. He thought the pottery had been there for some
time. I called the pottery and a few days later rushed over.
Imagine my feelings, after
years of research on Florida potters, to actually meet Melvin
Casper, a potter who has been working on Merritt Island since
A large serving platter with
Indian River and Gulf Stream Blue galzes. Signed: Merritt Island
Potters on the base.
Melvin Casper and his mother,
Peggy Jamieson, founded the Merritt Island Pottery in 1937, after
moving there from Chicago. They built the pottery out of planks
milled from pine trees cut on the property. In 1937 there was
no electricity on the island and so the first pottery was unglazed.
Melvin spent a few years in China with General Stillwell during
World War II but returned to continue making pottery on Merritt
Island. He remains there today, teaching and making pottery,
at 84 a master potter, hardened by the fire of World War II and
glazed by the beauty of Merritt Island.
Before moving back home to
Florida in 1980, I was a typical antique nut living
in upstate New York and haunting antiques shops and auctions
when I had time away from a busy practice of orthopedic surgery.
My interests ranged from period furniture, Tiffany, Galle, Daum
Nancy and cloisonné to antique toys and mechanical banks.
So it was with some background that I came to discover Old Florida
Pottery. I began to collect and in a year or two had a small
beginning. I wondered who were the people who made this pottery
and thus began a fourteen year odyssey of discovery.
The study of Florida pottery
has been a joyful experience for me. Eve Alsman Fuller, who was
active in the art community in St. Petersburg in the 1910- 1930
period, wrote in her art column for the St. Petersburg Times,
A community, be it large or small, should receive the creative
efforts of its citizens in a prideful manner, tendering due honor
and helpfulness; participating joyously in the results of the
efforts. Let us begin the celebration of Florida pottery.
About the author:
Alfred R. Frankel, M. D., is an avid collector of Floridiana.
He lives on the west coast of Florida. His book, OLD FLORIDA
POTTERY, will be published early this year.
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