On October 22, the Newark Museum opened its first-ever permanent gallery celebrating the extraordinary history of ceramics production in the state of New Jersey. Installed within the “House & Home” galleries in the National Historic Landmark Ballantine House, Hot, Hotter, Hottest : 300 years of New Jersey Ceramics provides audiences with a greater understanding of how New Jersey’s natural resources shaped its ceramics industry; the influence of New Jersey ceramics manufacturers and the production techniques they used; how pottery was used in different time periods and across social strata; and how, in the 21st century, contemporary makers continue to build upon New Jersey’s pottery tradition.No other institution is better suited to tell the story of New Jersey’s ceramics history than the Newark Museum. The museum’s New Jersey ceramics collection began in 1910 with an exhibition entitled Modern American Pottery, which included both art pottery from Newark’s Clifton Pottery, and porcelain from Trenton’s Lenox China. In 1915, the institution became the first museum in the country to produce an exhibition focused on a regional industry when it presented The Clay Products of New Jersey. Hot, Hotter, Hottest directly builds upon this institutional history while putting to good use the Museum’s remarkable collection of historical New Jersey ceramics—one of the most important such collections in the United States.
The Museum’s Chief Curator and Curator of Decorative Arts, Ulysses Grant Dietz, has created a checklist of 101 objects for inclusion in New Jersey Clay, to mark the 101st anniversary since the landmark exhibition of 1915. Ceramics high and low create a broad material perspective, including stonewares, yellowwares and Rockingham wares produced in the Amboys, Flemington and, Trenton, which became known in the 19th century as the “Staffordshire of the New World.” The development of refined whitewares and, ultimately, porcelain, is an important part of the story. So admired was the state capital’s output of ceramics that, in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson and his wife Edith commissioned Lenox, the Trenton-based manufacturer, to create the White House dining service.
Of course, it was a long road to the White House. In addition to showcasing the state’s achievement in ceramics, Hot, Hotter, Hottest traces the chronology of the industry in New Jersey, beginning with the geographic distribution of the clay pits and their influence on early settlement patterns. The earliest of New Jersey’s clay products were “redwares”—functional terracotta pieces that proved impractical to ship. A dish produced by Phillip Durell in Elizabethtown in 1793 is on display as an early example. Large yellow and gray clay beds in the Amboys yielded a great deal of raw material, enabling the early growth of the ceramics industry in the state. A stoneware beer mug helps tell this story, as does a rare Greek Revival coffee pot made by Jersey City’s D. J. Henderson Pottery ca. 1829-33; a mid-19th century Shaving Mug made by Charles Coxon & Company in South Amboy; and approximately 20 other functional items such as crocks, jugs and pitchers.
As time progressed and New Jersey potteries grew more technologically adept, stonewares and earthenwares were joined by more artful products. Majolica (earthenware with brightly colored glazes) grew popular in the late 19th century, and Trenton’s output of quality pieces helped put it on the map as the center of America’s ceramics industry. Several Trenton-made majolica objects are on display in the exhibition, including a unique potpourri jar made by Trenton’s Eureka Pottery and an exhibition vase produced by J.S. Mayer of the Arsenal Pottery for the New Orleans Cotton Centennial Exhibition of 1884.
By the mid-1800s, New Jersey makers began importing kaolin from nearby Pennsylvania, supplement the state’s own kaolin beds, that allowed them to produce refined whitewares and the translucent porcelain goods that enabled America to compete for the first time with European manufacturers in the luxury market. Hot, Hotter, Hottest includes rare examples of early porcelain, including parian wares by William Bloor and porcelain by William Young from the 1850s.
Trenton-born Walter Scott Lenox opened his Ceramic Art Company in 1889, a first-of-its-kind art studio (as opposed to factory) ceramics production facility. This was reflective of the industry in Trenton, where ceramics had indeed progressed to an art form. Alongside the production of utilitarian pieces, artists created ceramic figures, vases and other decorative items designed to be admired, not used. Roughly half of the objects on display in Hot, Hotter, Hottest are such objects of beauty, including the anchor piece of the exhibition: a porcelain and enamel “Grecian Vase” created for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, or St. Louis World’s Fair, by the Trenton Potteries Company. Having been separated for some time, the vase has been reunited with its original base for the first time in this exhibition.