Decker family, pottery workers, William’s dog Shep and “Stretch†c 1895. Burbage4.

Decker family, pottery workers, William’s dog Shep and “Stretch” c 1895. Burbage4.

Background

The following essays and notes were written by the late Beverly S. Burbage many years ago. He was respected and knowledgeable both as a Tennessee Valley Authority attorney and collector of antiques. For almost 30 years he was interested in the Decker Pottery of Chucky Valley, Tennessee. In addition to arranging exhibits of his pottery collection (which is now in the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville) and other peoples’ pottery, he gathered information and photographs with the intention of one day publishing a book.

The chapters and notes which Beverly wrote are clearly not in final draft form. They are just as he wrote them and have not been edited. Only a few photographs which he indicated should be included are currently available. The others exist, but have not yet been requested for use on this site. The decision was made that a poor image is better than no image. Therefore, readily available photographs have been substituted for missing illustrations in some cases. Other photographs, while not cited in the text, have been added. Beverly was not able to complete his book. However, he did lend this material to his good friend Dr. James C. Kelly for review. After Beverly’s death, Dr. Kelly entrusted the material to Carole Wahler to publish on this site.

Included among Beverly’s notes were his acknowledgements for help received and his book dedication. These notes are provided along with his chapters to demonstrate his full intention that these people receive a public thank you for their help and encouragement.

Carole Wahler, the editor of these materials, was a friend of Beverly’s for more than two decades. Many hours of pottery study and discussions were shared. Among the topics discussed on more than one occasion was how Beverly came to be interested in the Deckers in the first place. Different versions of this appear from time to time. However, when the editor questioned Beverly in this regard he always told her the same story. He said that initially he set out to learn about the Harmon Pottery of Greene County. One day while in Greeneville he visited an antique shop owned by a friend. While surveying the contents of the shop he spotted a cobalt decorated piece of pottery. He inquired about it and was told that it had been made at the Decker Pottery in adjacent Washington County. Almost immediately he changed his interest from the Harmons to the Deckers because he had never seen such an attractive piece of pottery attributed to Tennessee. The shop owner told him that he should contact Paul M. Fink, Jonesborough resident and historian of Washington County, in order to learn about the Deckers. Paul Fink not only knew the family and its history, but also had a collection of the pottery, potter’s tools, photographs and documents. Among the pieces in his pottery collection was the face vessel which is now in the Tennessee State Museum.

Privately, Beverly always gave the late Paul Fink the lion’s share of credit for all that he managed to compile on the Decker family and pottery. Why he failed to mention Paul on the note he titled Acknowledgments is not understood. The editor is confident that it was an oversight and that had Beverly lived he would have given Paul full credit for his contributions.

This small portion of Beverly’s work is presented as a partial fulfillment of his long time dream of producing a book. It is felt that only through reading his exact words can one begin to understand his very great interest in the Deckers and their pottery. The reader is reminded however that these words were written a long time ago. A great deal more is known about the Deckers today. Beverly was largely interested in their lives and the times in which they lived. He was more people oriented than ware oriented.

There are two references which have been published since his death. One book is The Pottery of Charles F. Decker: a life well made, (Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum and Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center, 2004). The second is Early Potters and Potteries of Delaware, Historical and Commercial Perspectives 1760-1890, by James R. Koterski, Cedar Tree Books, Ltd., Wilmington Delaware 2005. Since the Introduction essay was written in 1999, Mr. Koterski has added immeasurably to the editor’s body of knowledge on the Deckers through personal communications.

It is hoped that the following essays will serve to remind people that it was Beverly Burbage who, by way of the 1971 and 1972 exhibits and the 1971 Tennessee Conservationist articles, was the first to draw our attention to the Decker Pottery history, the Decker family, and the wares they produced.

Carole C. Wahler
August 2009


 
Charles Decker, Sr.’s wheel as seen c 1970. Burbage5.

Charles Decker, Sr.’s wheel as seen c 1970. Burbage5.

The Decker face jug which was in Paul Fink’s collection. It is now in the Tennessee State Museum. Burbage7.

The Decker face jug which was in Paul Fink’s collection. It is now in the Tennessee State Museum. Burbage7.

 
Harry Decker, a grandson of Charles, Sr. with his favorite piece of Decker pottery, the decorated pig bank. It is believed to have been made while Decker was still in Philadelphia. Seen in the Tennessee Conservationist. Burbage6.

Harry Decker, a grandson of Charles, Sr. with his favorite piece of Decker pottery, the decorated pig bank. It is believed to have been made while Decker was still in Philadelphia. Seen in the Tennessee Conservationist. Burbage6.

More pottery from the Decker sheds c 1970. Burbage11.

More pottery from the Decker sheds c 1970. Burbage11.

Utilitarian wares found in sheds on the Decker property. Many had incised decorations or inscriptions c 1970. Burbage8.

Utilitarian wares found in sheds on the Decker property. Many had incised decorations or inscriptions c 1970. Burbage8.


 
Mary Decker, a great, great granddaughter of Charles Sr. holding a utilitarian jug behind a pyramid of Decker jars c 1970. Seen in the Tennessee Conservationist. Burbage9.

Mary Decker, a great, great granddaughter of Charles Sr. holding a utilitarian jug behind a pyramid of Decker jars c 1970. Seen in the Tennessee Conservationist. Burbage9.

 
Pottery gathered from various locations on the Decker property c 1970. Burbage10.

Pottery gathered from various locations on the Decker property c 1970. Burbage10.

Family owned cobalt decorated crock c 1970. Burbage13.

Family owned cobalt decorated crock c 1970. Burbage13.

Family owned cobalt decorated jar c 1970. Burbage14.

Family owned cobalt decorated jar c 1970. Burbage14.

 
Mrs. Sarah Decker is seen standing in front of the old Decker home. The 1884 yard ornament is minus its top, which was reportedly broken by a grandson. Burbage12.

Mrs. Sarah Decker is seen standing in front of the old Decker home. The 1884 yard ornament is minus its top, which was reportedly broken by a grandson. Burbage12.

A lidded sugar jar. ai10.

A lidded sugar jar. ai10.

 
Handle view of lidded sugar jar. ai10a.

Handle view of lidded sugar jar. ai10a.

 
Two of the original seven Decker Pottery buildings left standing c 1970. Seen in the Tennessee Conservationist. Burbage15.

Two of the original seven Decker Pottery buildings left standing c 1970. Seen in the Tennessee Conservationist. Burbage15.

 
Side view of A Present pitcher. ai14.

Side view of A Present pitcher. ai14.

Beverly Burbage c.1980. ai7.

Beverly Burbage c.1980. ai7.

Churn detail. ai3a.

Editor’s note: only a small number of photographs accompanied the essays. An effort will be made to obtain the missing images for this site. For the present, poor quality images were deemed better than no images. An na indicates that no image was available. An si indicates that it is a substituted image. If the source of the substituted image was Beverly Burbage a BB will be affixed. An ai indicates that it is an added image. If the original source of an added image was Beverly Burbage then Burbage will be added to the image caption.

Copyright 2009-2017, Carole Wahler
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