Saturday, December 28, 2013

What Is It? Where Is It? (December): The Redware Plate Found in the Dining Room

This month's "What Is It? Where Is It?" is a piece of the redware plate that was found underneath the floorboards in the dining room of the Keith House in July, 1991. It is currently on display in the Visitors' Center. I was unable to confirm why the floorboards were removed in 1991 - the floor in this room was actually replaced in 1969 when the state was doing restoration work, so it is a mystery why the plate was not discovered then.

Redware is a type of pottery that was common in the 17th and 18th centuries and made with the red clay that is abundant in southeastern Pennsylvania (as well other places). It was cheap to produce because the materials were available locally and was fired at a lower temperature than other, harder potteries. It was very common among the German immigrants in this area. This piece is considered "slipware" or decorated in "slip." The pattern is made by mixing clay with other minerals and water and then squeezing or painting this watered down mixture onto the red clay body before firing. Original glazes often contained lead.

Another common decorating technique is sgraffito, in which a solid coating of slip (the watered down clay mixture) is applied to the redware and then a design is scratched into it (the word comes from the Italian verb sgraffire, which means "to scratch"), revealing the background layer and color. Both techniques can be executed in layers and with multi-colored and complex designs, making this utilitarian pottery a true art form which is still created to this day using the same techniques used by artisans 300 years ago.

To review all of the "What Is It? Where Is Its" from the year, click here.

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