Many years ago I took my son on a camping adventure. We found our way to the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. I wish I could say it was magical from the moment we turned on the road, but unless it was some really bad magic, I can’t! That first day we hit the worst thunderstorm I have ever driven in, and I’ve lived on the Gulf Coast with hurricanes my whole life! We didn’t have a lot of choice but to keep going on, it was before I had a cell phone and could pull up a map to see what was around us. I just had some basic map that just showed the road! Eventually, we drove above the storm and found our way to Pisgah Inn on top of Mount Pisgah (of course!). This is where I fell in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains! We were so lucky to get a room there! Forget that silly tent camping I had planned! I wanted a roof and somewhere dry to sleep! Pisgah Inn is one of my all-time favorite places to stay! I hope to be able to go back sometime soon!
Anyway, we finished our trip down the Blue Ridge parkway the next day. And for every steep hiking path my son dragged me down, I dragged him in some arts and craft store! Back then I could only afford to ooh and ah at all the pretty artwork. Now I really wish I could find the pictures we took. I think they are on one of the CD’s I was sure would save my pictures forever….
This trip down memory lane hardly makes me an expert on all things Blue Ridge related, but at least I knew something about it when I found some pieces of Blue Ridge Pottery in the stash of dishes I inherited! To be quite honest, when I saw the 3 plates and 3 saucers I was tempted to throw them out. They had been “very well used”. But I guess my sentimental side took over. I could imagine the chips on the plates being caused by the kids in the family(one of which was now my husband). I would bet Ma Betty (grandma-in-law) wouldn’t let the parents fuss at any of the precious darlings! At least I’m not allowed to fuss at my daughter when I visit! They were worth an effort to look after. And the stamp on the back suckered me in! I love artist and manufacture marks for some reason! And this one had an awesome story!
A few post back I talked about the Made in… stamp that was required on all imported goods after 1891. Well, the Blue Ridge Southern Pottery company was stamped with MADE IN THE USA. This company was truly an American made company. In fact, Southern Pottery was founded because industrialist in the early 20th century were looking for ways to build up industry around the Tennessee railroad lines. E.J. Owens thought the natural resources around Erwin, Tennessee would make a nice pottery! The plant opened in 1920, complete with about 40 homes built in the area for employee housing! Owens sold the pottery to a friend, Charles W. Foreman within a couple of years. Mr. Foreman was the guy that introduced the underglaze technique that Blue Ridge Pottery is famous for.
Around the 1920s to 1930s most dinnerware was being made with muted colors and decals. When Blue Ridge Pottery came out with their new line of dinnerware, it was bright and cheerful. The underglaze technique made the dishes more durable than a lot of other brands on the market. Production really kicked off in the 1940s when imports from other countries were severely limited due to World War II. It is claimed that about 324,000 pieces were produced each week! The U.S, Post office even opened a branch in the plant because of the large volume of pottery being shipped out! And even so, every piece that was made was a unique hand painted piece of art! Southern Pottery employed about 500 painters, many of them women from the surrounding area, and trained them how to paint the designs. However, even the same artist won’t paint the same design the exact same way every time. Some sources say there were between 4000 to 5000 different patterns. Add to this that Southern Pottery didn’t actually name the patterns themselves, but let the stores that sold them come up with names, identifying patterns is sometimes very hard!
After the war was over things did change. Within a few years, imports were flowing in from the rest of the world. The resources needed to produce the dishes became more expensive and budgets had to be cut. Oddly enough, it was the development of new “non-breakable” plastic dishes that was really the final straw for Blue Ridge Southern Pottery. They closed their doors in 1957.
I love that this company was willing to hire and train women in the 1930’s and 40’s. They would have teams of 5 to 6 working on a pattern with one person painting stems, another leaves and another the flowers and so on. And the jobs would switch up sometimes to keep it from getting too monotonous. I’m really not an expert on Blue Ridge Southern Pottery company (I’m adding links at the bottom to pages that are much more knowledgeable than I am!), but I would venture to say this company really does deserve a place in the list of companies that made America a great nation!