Figural
Sewertile
Pottery
of
North-Central
Ohio
Figural sewertile pottery, as the name suggests, was made in the sewer pipe, sewer tile, and brick factories throughout the United States. Ohio, because of its rich natural deposits of red and white clay, was home to dozens of sewer pipe and brick companies, with large concentrations in Summit and Tuscarawas counties. Ohio also had the distinction of fostering an unusual number of folk artists in this distinctive medium.
Except for the occasional promotional piece, the sewertile companies limited their production to sanitary pipe, manufacturing a wide selection of large and small, glazed and unglazed, pipes, bends, T-joints, and other fittings. These were made of locally dug white or red clay, poured or pressed into plaster molds, then fired in huge brick kilns. Their characteristic rich, deep glaze was achieved by throwing buckets full of salt into the kiln at the peak of the firing.
But the craftsmen who worked in the sewertile factories did not always limit themselves to the workaday production of sanitary pipe. In their spare hours, they created a startling array of both decorative and useful objects. At the end of a day's production, a little leftover clay was all that was necessary to come up with a birthday or anniversary gift.
Many of these sewertile pieces were everyday objects like match holders and ashtrays, crudely hand-formed and haphazardly glazed. Others employed both the full craft of the moldmakers and throwers, and the talented eye of the folk artist for detail and proportion. The most outstanding examples are figural--a menagerie of dogs and cats, lions and rabbits, and a smattering of humans as well. Some were one-of-a-kind; others were produced in some quantity over a significant period of time.

Inspiration for many pieces of figural sewertile sprang from the decorative pottery which was imported from the Staffordshire area of Great Britain, and beyond the reach of the rural housewife's pocketbook. The 12"-tall spaniel on the left is of unglazed, cream-colored clay. Its stance and markings, and the chain dangling from its collar, show that it was made in a mold taken from a classic Staffordshire original.
Likewise, the reclining poodle (6" high) on the right, also unglazed but molded in this instance from red brick or sewertile clay, exhibits the form and detail (note the lock on the collar) of an English ancestor, although its clay-button eyes and loosely formed base betray its maker.
Not all makers were content to mimic other forms. On the left is a hand-formed dog of indeterminate breed seated primly on a small hill. Only 5 1/2" high, it has a simple charm. Below is a much more sophisticated example, perhaps crafted in memory of a well-loved pet. This large (14 1/2" long) reclining Labrador was formed in a mold, then extensively detailed by hand. Finally SPORT, 11" high (pictured at the top of the page), is a vigorous variation of the solid, open-legged dog produced of tooled, unglazed clay in Newcomerstown, Ohio.
Fortunately for the collector, many makers signed and occasionally dated their work, making it easier to determine both the age and origin of many pieces. The poodle shown above is twice inscribed "Adam Merly" on its bottom, and SPORT sports the initials or nickname "BUD" on its underside.
Lions, like dogs, were an incredibly popular subject, and were both taken from finer models and created by hand. They were also made over a surprising range of time. Although 19th-century examples turn up, the vast majority of figural sewertile was made in the first half of the 20th century, and dated lion doorstops illustrate this range. One example we owned a dozen years ago, a classic 5"-high reclining lion on a fluted base, was inscribed "1887"; another doorstop that appeared to be identical was marked "Wadsworth, Ohio" and dated "1-7-37."
These examples show the eccentricity and humor of much figural sewertile. The 5"-high lion to the right, lying atop a jumble of logs and snakes, is crudely modeled from coarse, light red clay. The recumbent lion below (9 1/2" long), although also formed by hand, has a power and majesty characteristic of the best folk art.
Two final examples: the deer, an unusual subject, is medium red clay, unglazed but painted dark brown. The pipe bowl, extremely rare, is hand-formed, tooled and glazed, and exhibits an almost mythic presence. Truly an outstanding piece.

Delagrange Antiques
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