Blog post by Wayne Hastings
Introduction to the Stuff Lying Around Your House
Have you ever taken the time to really study the stuff lying around your house? Attentively looking at the things my family just ended up with has become a recent hobby of mine. A question as simple as “where did this come from?” usually will lead you down a rabbit hole of information.
Although an object has called your bookshelf home for the past several decades, it was once from somewhere else. No matter where an object ends up, it will always carry their place of creation with them. Japanese porcelain will forever carry that small red signature on the bottom of their ware and they will always be, presumably, made from Japanese clay. An object does not need to be from across the ocean to be engaging though. For instance, my family’s umbrella stand has a surprising connection to Hoosier history. It is a 10 gallon stoneware jug created by the Uhl Pottery Company.
Out of Huntingburg, The Uhl Pottery Company was one of many Hoosier companies that produced stoneware from the 19th century to the early 20th century. You probably have noticed their popularity and others because they are littered throughout antique stores. These hardy stone jugs do deserve attention though. They all tell important stories about where they came from.
The Hendricks Family and Henrickville Pottery
In our own backyard there was a pottery shop functioning just outside of Bloomington in a small farming community called Hendricksville. Unlike the Uhl Pottery Company, the Hendricks family represented Indiana’s earliest group of potters, having settled in Indiana in the 1820s, decades before the Uhl family. Using the Ohio River, Frederick and Elizabeth Hendricks permanently settled in Indiana after moving from Kentucky, a history intricately tied to Hoosier culture. From then on the pottery tradition was passed down to their son David and his wife Jeriah Taylor, and then finally to their son Charles Abram Hendricks.
From the 1820s to the turn of the century, the family crafted their own pottery which in turn was sold to neighboring farm communities. Compared to large pottery companies, the Hendricks family served a much smaller audience, only covering a 20 mile radius. And yet these trips would have taken up to three to four days by wagon.
These pieces of stoneware, currently on display in the Center’s Education Room, reveal practical pieces of history such as how families survived without refrigerators and ice boxes. Each pot and jar has a specific function such as for mixing ingredients, pouring water, and of course for storing food. Even well after the popularity of glass jars, which forced many pottery companies out of business, stone crocks were still being used for pickling.
It is my opinion however that we should appreciate these objects beyond being early kitchen appliances. While large pottery companies began mass producing stoneware in the 1890s, Hendricksville pottery remained a hand-made tradition until they closed shop in the early 1900s. When viewing these pots and crocks, consider how there are all uniquely tied to Hendricksville, Indiana. The Hendricks family used Richland Creek to power their potter’s wheel and their clay came directly from their own backyard. And most importantly their own hands crafted the pots. A tradition that spanned generations.
Henry Wahl: Preserver of Hoosier Art and Culture
Henry Wahl, an active member of the Monroe County Historical Society until his passing in 2008, considered these objects more than simple kitchen appliances. To Wahl, these objects were relics of Hoosier culture and powerful symbols of his own ancestry. Wahl’s great uncle, Charles Abram Hendricks, was one of the last living members of the Hendricks family to craft stoneware.
It is inspiring to know that Henry Wahl did not always hold an interest in Hendricksville Pottery. Just as we walk past objects in our house everyday, the stoneware was of little significance for Wahl until he started seriously collecting and researching them in his late 60s. After a lifelong obsession of collecting crafts from all over the world, his Hendricksville Pottery were his most prized possessions.
It can be extremely rewarding to take notice of the things you normally would not pay attention to. Without Henry Wahl, many of these pieces of Hendricksville history would be lost. By a line of strange coincidental events, I was able to personally discover more about my family ancestry. It so happens that Henry Wahl is my first cousin twice removed because his father, Ethan Wahl, was the brother to my great grandfather, Charles Wall. I accredit the Uhl stone jug that has been in my family for generations for initiating my interest in vintage stoneware and for inspiring me to do research on Hendricksville Pottery. While I can’t promise you will make discoveries concerning your family lineage, I assure good things happen when you start appreciating the things around you.