Pottery at Marblehead, established twelve years ago. Started with idea of occupation for handicapped workers. Two principal workers served apprenticeship as patients. Work undertaken too general for a patients' work-shop. Should have been limited to one or two small specialties.
Finally given over to a professional industry, successful financially.
Pottery for tubercular girls near San Francisco, California, and for patients in State Hospitals of Massachusetts.
Possibilities of tile industry, and description of methods of working.
Pottery making is included in the list of occupations for the handicapped more because of the writer's belief in its possibilities than because of actual accomplishments and cash returns. Twelve years ago in Marblehead a small pottery was established with the idea of occupation for handicapped workers. The pottery is still in successful operation. It has not for a good many years been used as a school or in the interest of invalids, although two of its principal workers of to-day had their apprenticeship as patients twelve years ago. The reasons for giving up the teaching and the work for invalids will be of interest to any one contemplating pottery as a special occupation. The industry began with the employment of one man with technical training in the art. He was supplied with the necessary equipment for a beginning and was advised to go ahead as though he were doing it for himself, without any reference to pupils or patients. There are a great many details in pottery making, and certain of these can be accomplished by intelligent assistants without special training. The attempt was made at Marblehead to produce a considerable variety of ware; and here probably was the first mistake. If the work had been kept down to one or two small specialties, it would have served better the interest of the invalid apprentices. But the man in charge was not content to go slowly; he had, in fact, too much the professional idea, and was too much an artist and creator to be a good teacher. The result was that the pupils could not keep up with him. They spoiled some of the work, and it was decided to go ahead for a while on a purely professional basis. So with the assistance of the two apprentices who have since become professional, the work was carried on and developed to a very high degree of perfection. Finally, it became so successful on the new basis, that it was allowed to go on so; and the idea of making a new industry for the handicapped was given up.
A pottery was established some years ago by Dr. Philip King Brown of San Francisco for the benefit of a tubercular sanatorium. It was intended to give the patients, who were young women from the department stores of San Francisco, a chance to earn their living while they were convalescing. Dr. Brown reports that while the work has been satisfactory as an occupation and while the patients have turned out a fair quality of ware, the institution is not successful financially because the product is not quite good enough to compete with existing commercial potteries; and because, as in the venture at Marblehead, the professional potter chosen to conduct the institution proved to be too active and ambitious for the best teaching results.
Pottery has been undertaken by three of the state asylums for the insane in Massachusetts. So far it has been used largely as a diversion and to add to the interest and permanent value of clay modeling. Recent exhibitions from these potteries have shown creditable work. They have not been in operation long enough to warrant any prediction of their commercial value. There is no doubt of the interest and desirable diversion available for mental patients along this line.
After ten years' observation of a small but successful pottery plant, the writer feels justified in the following conclusions and predictions. Work in clay should not be undertaken by the handicapped except under the most careful and experienced direction. They should then undertake some specialty such as tiles or opaque shades for indirect light fixtures. Such products, which can be made in moulds and decorated by hand, have large possibilities of commercial success, and need not be too complex or difficult in execution. In the broader fields of pottery covering hollow and flat ware, competition is too keen and the technical difficulties too great to warrant any extensive manufacture. Another great objection lies in the difficulty of securing the right kind of instructors. There should be a fine field here for young art students who are willing to devote their lives to teaching without a consuming personal ambition. New York State University at Alfred has a school of pottery which could easily give the required technical training. A graduate of that school might establish in connection with some institution a training school for teachers.
A small tile industry could easily be established in connection with an institution or by a few handicapped workers in any community. It is not necessary to have a native clay, although the existence of suitable earth in the near vicinity lessens the expense of manufacture. Decorated tiles suitable for fireplaces can be easily made by hand from plaster of Paris, wood, or metal moulds. The first step is to trace upon clay or plaster the design in outline or in low relief. From such a block any one, with a little experience, may construct a one-piece mould. Into this mould the clay is fixed and pressed until the design and shape are transferred. After drying, the clay may be fired at a temperature which need not exceed 2000° Fhr. The product will be a terracotta tile of comparatively little interest, as it will lack color and finish. These terra-cotta tiles, however, may be painted with under glazes and coated with over glazes so that a second firing will produce tiles of great value and permanence. It is hardly necessary to add that the design must be worth while; and that the chemistry of the glazes must be such as to insure good results. It has long been the writer's dream that there should be some central office where designs of the highest quality could be produced and distributed to handicapped pottery workers in different sections of the country. Such a central office could afford to employ the best designers, and could distribute suggestions and advice and expert criticism which would insure adequate results.
The equipment of a small pottery is not expensive and is to-day easily obtainable. The kilns, which are the principal item of expense, may now be obtained in compact and practical form, the expense varying from $100 to $1,000, depending upon the size. If gas is used for heat, there is little or no objectionable smoke. The whole process may be carried on without prohibitive physical effort.