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North Carolina Art Potteries: Oscar Bachelder

and Omar Khayyam Pottery

Oscar Louis Bachelder, already a highly skilled production potter, came in 1911 to Luther in Buncombe County to set up his pottery. Bachelder first set up his own shop in 1914. The following year, the company name was suggested to him by Juliana Busbee, who noticed a copy of the Persian poet's book of writings on his reading table. Helen B. Camp, a longtime patron of Bachelder outlined qualities of his work in 1923: "He makes no duplicates. Each article is distinct in its individuality. The clay, filled with minerals, gives him colors no other pottery possesses. As I looked at the myriad of shapes, sizes and colors glowing under the rays of the setting sun--blue, black, yellow, brown, rose amber, mahogany, violet-gray--I felt anew that these vases were indeed the true background for wild flowers. The interplay of vase and flower was a revelation." These qualities of individuality, distinctness and naturalism were touted by art potters and their supporters.

His ware was famous for being sturdy and highly vitrified. He was the first to really popularize Albany clay slip glaze (alkaline glaze was widely in use). Bachelder produced traditional vessels and art pottery shapes similar to other potteries. He had many impressive vessels that were fired several times with thin layers of Albany slip which could produce some iridescence to the surface. Sometimes, he would vary the thickness of glaze in different parts of the vessel. This often happened when the ware was dipped halfway into the glaze, turned upside down, and dipped into the glaze again. Sometimes the overlapping build up from repeated glaze dippings could create bands around the vessel. Sometimes, he would sprinkle over a glaze slip ashes or bits of cobalt or manganese. Successful pieces were fired several times with repeated thin Albany slip, which gave an irridiescence to the surface.Some color combinations included a sand-colored glaze with bits of brown or blue, or a gray glaze with a blush of rose. Wood ash produced mottled effects. The mirror-black glaze (seen below) was very popular for its highly reflective properties and subtle patterns. Bachelder experimented with the ox-blood and crystaline glazes--as had other glaze experts in the art pottery movement. Bachelder used a groundhog kiln and later built a circular downdraft kiln, similar to that of his friend, Walter B. Stephens, used for high fire pottery. A good source for Bachelder is Pat H. Johnson and Daisy Wade Bridges, O.L. Bachelder and his Omar Khayyam Pottery, Charlotte: Mint Museum, 1984.

Walter B. Stephen, Pisgah Forest Pottery

Stephen, who is discussed in Sweezy's book, hand-painted cameo decorations on vases in the French freehand style with great accuracy of detail known as pate-sur-pate, in white paste against blue wash (reminding one of Wedgewood jasparware). The subjects were from American frontier life (ie. buffalo hunt or caravan of covered wagons). He made matte, crystalline and crackle Chinese glazes with unusual colors on dense porcelain bodies. Stephen first produced semi-matte glaze in green or gray celadon or red. He followed this in the later 1920s with blue and light maroon-colored crackle vases. He is known for the high gloss brightly colored glazes that were added in the next few years--shades of rose, green, white, and cobalt blue. The turquoise blue and wine were popular colors. The crystalline glaze created a somewhat variegated surface in color and texture.

Illustrations

See especially Turners and Burners, Figure 3-22.

From Left to right--Oscar Bachelder, Stoneware Tea Set Plate; Stoneware Albany Slip Pitcher, ca. 1928; White Stoneware Vase. All three works were sold by Bachelder at his Omar Khayyam Pottery.

From Left to right--Stoneware Vase; Stoneware Pitcher, ca. 1925; Stoneware Vase, with Brown Glazed Interior, ca. 1920s; Stoneware Vase. All these works by Bachelder were sold at his Omar Khayyam Pottery.

Pisgah Forest Pottery attributed to Walter B. Stephen

Below, we see the jade green semi-gloss matte glaze on white stoneware (1948). On the right, the popular blue crackle glaze on stoneware (1934).

Below on the right is an example of Stephen's crystalline glaze on a white stoneware plate (1934). On the left is an example of the cream-colored matte glaze with relief decoration on a stoneware bowl (1940). The center piece is one of the vases with kaolin slip decorations in the form of matching cameos (1944). Here the subject is Westward Ho.

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