It is sometimes said that nothing is truly original - everything has been created or thought of somewhere, by someone, before. That may be the case, but the Catawba Valley potters of the early 20th century were a fairly secluded creative community, and their original creations can be claimed as their own more than most.
While the technique of combining two different clays in a single piece dates back to late 17th century England, maintaining the integrity of the two clays in a single "swirl" originated in Western North Carolina, most likely in the 1930's. According to potter Sam Propst's daughter, Propst just happened to have some white clay and decided to see what he could do with it. The resulting swirl pattern sold well, Propst's contemporaries like Enoch Reinhardt adopted the technique, and Western North Carolina became the creative home of swirl ware.
Swirl ware is labor intensive and time consuming to create, as the two clays must be worked separately, and extra care must be taken to make sure they don't bleed into each other, or the swirl design will be lost. In addition to the technique for creating the distinctive swirl pattern, Enoch Reinhardt also developed a new, clearer glaze containing ground window panes, as the traditional cinder glaze used in the area was too murky to reveal the swirl.
Michael Kline gives a demonstration of how to make swirl ware in this video.
In our April Arts of the South sale, we have fine examples of swirl ware by some of the most important and prolific producers of the genre, including Burlon Craig, Charles Lisk and Joe Reinhardt.
Swirl face jug "I Hear No Evil / I See no Evil / I Speak No Evil", Joe Reinhardt
Three Pieces Swirl Ware, Burlon Craig
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