Last winter, I put together a minimum vessel count for the blue handpainted pearlware from the Sarah Boston Farmstead assemblage. We decided to take on this task as a test to determine if in fact it would be possible to mend the ceramic collection into distinguishable vessels. We chose the blue handpainted pearlware in part because it seemed like a manageable segment of the greater ceramic assemblage, and also because we assumed ceramics with linear patterns and paint strokes would be easier to refit than say, plain white, or transfer print pieces. What we found was a little disappointing at first. We were unable to reconstruct a single vessel in the blue handpainted pearlware category. However, we were able to reconstruct enough of several rim fragments to start toput together a catalog of all the blue handpainted rim patterns in the collection. While maybe not as exciting as entire vessels, we thought you might enjoy seeing these patterns.
As it turns out, the majority of blue handpainted pearlware rims fell into a category of ceramic glaze called, “china glaze”, a popular style of English-made refined white earthenware made between 1775-1812 (www.chipstone.org). These vessels were covered in a blue tinted glaze and painted with imitation Chinese patterns popularized by the more expensive Chinese porcelain they were meant to reference (www.jefpat.org).
This brings up an interesting question, and one that I think is very relevant for our work on the Sarah Boston Site in general: can an English ceramic, with Chinese decoration, have meaning for a Nipmuc family? The answer, as you might have guessed, is: of course it can! What we are seeing here is the entanglement of global influences (English clay and ceramic technology, Chinese styling, Native aesthetic preferences) in one local knot. This is the kind of thing we encounter all the time when we study the material dimensions of colonialism. The fact that Sarah and her mother participated in the consumption of English ceramics and Chinese patterns shouldn’t surprise us, after all, Sarah Boston and her mother Sarah Burnee didn’t experience colonialism in a vaccuum, rather, they were a part of the early American experience, buying dishes and fabric and other goods that expressed their style and preferences, just like everyone else. That didn’t make them any less engaged or involved with their Nipmuc heritage, rather it’s interesting to think about how their Nipmuc identities may have informed some of their consumer choices.
by: Heather Law Pezzarossi