John B. Bell

 

BELL, JOHN B.
(1800–1880)
is recognized as one of America’s outstanding nineteenth century potters. Born in Hagerstown, Maryland, the eldest son of potter Peter Bell, he also worked inWinchester, Virginia; Chambersburg and Waynesboro, Pennsylvania; and Baltimore, Maryland. He worked in Waynesboro from 1833 until his demise. Hisapprenticeship, under his father’s instruction in Hagerstown, instilled in him the concepts of eighteenth-century German utilitarian pottery production. In Chambersburg(c. 1827–1833), his association with potter Jacob Heart (1791–1865) provided Bell with an understanding of English ceramic-molding techniques. This combination of German and English ceramic production techniques provided the foundation for the Shenandoah Valley pottery tradition. John, his father, Peter, and his brothers,Samuel and Solomon, were the potters primarily responsible for the dissemination of these pottery styles throughout the Shenandoah Valley region.John Bell was a proven student of pottery techniques throughout his production period, and his broad production repertoire included the earliest documented use in America of tin glaze and of the mocha dendritic style of glaze decoration (first used in England prior to 1785), which ornamented ware with moss-like, branching designs. His late production, in about 1850, of salt-glazed stoneware was preceded by a period of producing pottery with a cobalt and lead-oxide glaze, which resembled local stoneware products. His use of manganese dioxide as a coloring agent often resembles thecoatings of Baltimore’s Bennett Brothers, of some Bennington ware, and of other Rockingham-style glazes, exhibiting a deep brown, mottled, and/or running colorationcontrasted with a cream to yellow ground. While in Baltimore, he was possibly associated with Charles Coxen, a Staffordshire and American ceramic modeler, assome of Bell’s stamped products were the result of Coxenfabricated molds. Many slip-decorated artifacts made in Bell’s shop are extant today.John Bell’s earthenware products often exhibit the preciseness of European porcelain ware. Many of the extant artifacts from his shop, however, exhibit a folk artquality. His thrown hollowware most often exhibits thin walls with decorative moldings and rims, and many are architecturally consistent with sixteenthand seventeenthcentury European forms. The hand modeled animal products of his shop show a distinctive playfulness common to the nineteenth century. His hand modeled liondoorstops, in both earthenware and stoneware forms, are hauntingly folksy in appearance, and are copies of early nineteenth-century chalkware figures. His salt-glazedutilitarian products are either rectilinear or curvilinear in form, and decorated with cobalt floral art painting.John Bell is known to have employed only lead-oxide superglaze (consistent with that of his contemporaries) for his earthenware finish. He also employed white slip
engobe,
a liquid clay applied before a ceramic piece has been fired and usually before it has dried, as both a decorative addition and as a masking ploy to cover theredness of the earthenware clay. Bell used almost exclusively the metallic oxides of manganese dioxide (brown), copper oxide (green), and various cobalt oxides (blue),to produce decorative colors on his wares. Many of his products were decorated with commercial paints, and Bell used various stamps and signatures to authenticateand advertise his products.
See also
Solomon Bell; German American Folk Art; Museum of Early Southern Arts; Pottery, Folk
.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Comstock, H.E.
The Pottery of the Shenandoah Valley Region.
Chapel Hill, N.C., and London, 1994.Rice, A.H., and John Baer Stoudt.
The Shenandoah Pottery.
Strasburg, Va., 1929