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Historic Deerfield acquires rare American redware collection

Jar, made by Martin Crafts (1807-1880), Whately, Massachusetts, 1830.  Lead-glazed red earthenware (redware).  Stamped "THE PROPERTY/ OF/ MARTIN CRAFTS." and on the reverse "WHATELY./ APRIL THE. L. 1830”,  under each handle, "W" and "M.C." and  on the rim the piece, "MARTIN CRAFTS WHATELY MARTIN CRAFTS WHATELY."  William T. Brandon Memorial Collection of American Redware and Ceramics. 2013.7.18

Jar, made by Martin Crafts (1807-1880), Whately, Massachusetts, 1830. Lead-glazed red earthenware (redware). Stamped "THE PROPERTY/ OF/ MARTIN CRAFTS." and on the reverse "WHATELY./ APRIL THE. L. 1830”, under each handle, "W" and "M.C." and on the rim the piece, "MARTIN CRAFTS WHATELY MARTIN CRAFTS WHATELY." William T. Brandon Memorial Collection of American Redware and Ceramics. 2013.7.18

DEERFIELD — Historic Deerfield has acquired, through donation, 48 objects from the William T. Brandon Memorial Collection of American Redware and Ceramics.

Redware formed the most common ceramic type in New England households, and came in forms ranging from storage jars and milk pans to harvest jugs and chamber pots. Frequently damaged and easily broken, items rarely survive to the present day.

The gift of the William T. Brandon Memorial Collection of American Redware and Ceramics fills a significant gap in the museum’s representation and interpretation of this everyday, utilitarian ware.

“We are delighted to add the Brandon Collection to Historic Deerfield’s nationally recognized holdings in ceramics,” said Philip Zea, president of Historic Deerfield. “Since the institution’s founding, the presence and role of American redware has been underrepresented in our historic houses and museum exhibitions. This acquisitions goes a long way to correcting that deficit.”

William “Bill” T. Brandon (1935-2005) of Concord, grew up in North Carolina, but lived in Massachusetts for more than 50 years. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeastern University with degrees in electrical engineering, and became a recognized leader in the field of satellite communications. One of his most important accomplishments was his work as the project manager for the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module power amplifier, used to return live television from the lunar surface.

Brandon was also an avid historian, amateur archaeologist and pottery collector. His collection ranges from 18th- to early 20th-century examples, focusing predominately on New England-made ceramics, particularly redware. The core of the collection was given to him by his friend Dr. Burton Gates of Clark University, who was an early researcher and antiques dealer in the fields of American ceramics and glass. Largely assembled before 1930, the material that Dr. Gates acquired concentrated on objects with family provenances and documentation.

One object of particular interest to Historic Deerfield is a large jar made by Martin Crafts (1805-1880) of Whately. The eldest son of potter Thomas Crafts, Martin worked with his father until late 1833, when he left to run potteries in Portland, Maine, Nashua, N.H., and Boston. In 1857, Martin returned to Whately and ran the Crafts pottery until its close in 1861.

The jar, marked “The Property of Martin Crafts” and dated “April the 1, 1830,” is a tour-de-force of the craft.

The collection also contains examples of redware from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland. Among the more unusual forms of slip-decorated Pennsylvania redware is an onion planter or bulb pot, made in the early 19th century. The vessel would have been filled with dirt and onion bulbs or sets. As the onions sprouted, the green shoots would push out of the holes. Cooks trimmed the shoots like herbs adding them to soups, stews and other dishes.

The Brandon Collection is now on view in the Museum’s Attic at the Flynt Center of Early New England Life.

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