58th in the Tuesday Story Series
I have always enjoyed browsing through antique stores. The more I did, the more I learned and began to recognize certain aspects of age and what was once popular. For instance, I would often see a style of dishware that had a distinctive look of its own - not formal, but not mass produced either. When I check the backs of the dishes, they most often were stamped "Blue Ridge Pottery", sometimes I would find the older stamp "Southern Pottery. Not every dish was stamped on the back, but most were.
Southern Pottery, later Blue Ridge Pottery, was begun in Erwin, Tennessee, in the Blue Ridge mountains in 1938. It was an economically depressed area of the Appalachians and women were hired from the surrounding areas to come and learn how to paint in the folk art style by practicing on broken pottery. Once the skill was learned, she became part of an assembly line of sorts, one painting leaves, one painting the fruit, one painting the trim, etc. The patterns were changed among groups of women to avoid monotony. Blue Ridge Pottery became the largest producer of china in the US during the WW II years because of restrictive imports laws. There are hundreds of distinct patterns, including plaids, flowers, people, birds, animals, farms, and fruit. No two pieces in a pattern are alike because of the hand painting.
I became intrigued with the pattern known as "Crab Apple" and began to collect the plates. Once I started my own antiques business, I found it easier to collect some of the harder to find pieces such as casseroles, coffee pot and salt and pepper shakers. I noticed that in certain parts of the county, you could find more of a certain pattern and sometimes you would see none at all. We still have everything I collected and use them frequently. Because of the under glazing process the company had developed, the pattern is as bright as it was when it was made. I enjoy seeing the brush strokes in each piece, thinking about the hand who made them, and the fact that they were helping their families stay together by providing much needed income. There is a type of connectedness there for me and a sense of something very unique and American.
After WW II ended, the company found it hard to compete with cheaper imports from Japan, and also with the new style of plastic dishwares being offered. (I cannot believe people preferred plastic to something this pretty, but they did!) Now there are clubs and collective societies which celebrate the history and beauty of these American dishes, and there is a collector for every pattern. There are many websites to help you identify a pattern piece, but one of the best is this link. Once you are there, click on the pattern's button on the left side of the page; the patterns are listed alphabetically.