Where Ceramics Once Thrived by Charles Luce Watching a skilled ceramics artist shape a creation on the wheel is a thrilling experience. Under her or his hands, a spinning blob of mud grows into a work of art. It's not unusual, after witnessing such a display of virtuosity, for the audience to realize that the ware on their own kitchen shelves pales by comparison. So it's logical to ask: Is every thrown piece made the same way? By hand? Even the cheap stuff at home? Of course the answer is: No. Production ceramic ware comes from highly automated assembly lines.
A question with a more elusive answer might be: Where are the factories? Where does production ceramic ware come from? The answer: Until recently a small Ohio town.
A visit today to East Liverpool, Ohio, a hamlet situated on the Ohio River just a few miles from the Pennsylvania border, reveals little of the town's history as the former world capitol of production pottery.
This is a place of boarded up buildings, discount automotive parts outlets and abandoned storefronts. However for the ceramics industry East Liverpool is an historical mecca, the place America's where pottery industry fought its way to the world's center stage and thrived, albeit briefly.
It was in 1841 that British-born potter James Bennett settled here, drawn by accessible clay deposits and the sense that he could make a better living than in Jersey City where he'd worked at the Henderson Pottery Company since immigrating in 1839. Bennett's hunch turned into a family affair - he sent for his brothers in 1845 - and soon expanded. Within four years the family's successful pot-throwing operation had spun off a host of competitors. In 1849 there were six firms running 94 kilns in the sleepy town.