A teapot made at the York Pottery by Henry York, Lake Butler, Florida. Signed on the base in script: Florida. Circa 1886, Courtesy Maines family, Lake Butler, Florida

 
 

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 about it.
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 business.
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

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. Circa 1933.

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 the pottery.
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

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.

 
that looks very much like majolica.
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 Kohler’s 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. Mary’s 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 Orlando’s 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 undertaking.
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. Mizner’s bad leg and his friendship with Paris Singer, heir to the sewing machine fortune, led to the two men visiting Singer’s 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 Springs.

Henry Graack, Jr. at his wheel
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 holding trees.
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 Florida’s 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 Crary’s found people needed the same food storage vessels used by early Florida settlers. The Crary’s 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.

Fighting Stallion Lmap. Paper label reads: Royal Hickman, Pretty Crystal Glaze. Royal Hickman, Ltd., Tampa, Florida. Circa 1950

Fighting Stallion Lamp
In 1949, Royal Hickman, one of America’s 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.
The Tampa plant, with thirty employees, produced some of Hickman’s 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 1937. Wow!

A large serving platter with Indian River and Gulf Stream Blue galzes. Signed: Merritt Island Potters on the base.

Florida Pottery - Serving Platter

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.
www.oldfloridapottery.com

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