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Fragments at building site, document sleuths prove early 1800s kiln and pottery factory in Fredericksburg, exciting scholars
Fredericksburg potter Francis Hamilton Bell's brother, Nathan Clark Bell in Kingston, N.Y., made this jug.
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When she described the shards and "kiln furniture"--clay spacers placed between pots to be fired in the kiln--that she'd seen, Kiser's eyes lit up.
"I knew finding a kiln was cool," Kiser said Monday. "I didn't know Mrs. Kuebler had just changed history."
As a member of the Archaeological Society of Virginia, Kiser confirmed Kuebler's report and passed it on to the state archaeologist.
Barber's inquiries set wheels turning at Dovetail, which had privately surveyed the tract for its owner, the Silver Cos., in 2007.
Now, Dovetail is taking the lead, donating its staff time to ensure that archaeologists can explore the site before it is destroyed by construction of Amelia Square's luxury brownstones.
The Virginia Department of Historic Resources may provide money for the project from its threatened-site fund. Mueller-Heubach has offered to share his expertise in stoneware.
Councilman Matt Kelly reached out to the Silver Cos. and received a commitment from Jud Honaker, president of commercial development, to allow the excavation. Kelly said the Silver Cos. has also agreed that any artifacts valued at under $10,000 will become the city's property.
"This is a unique find that has generated a lot of interest beyond just the city," Kelly said. "This is another opportunity to showcase Fredericksburg while also uncovering more about its past."
Francis Bell was born in New York in 1809 into a family that was famous for pottery. He came to Fredericksburg in 1832, married Sarah B. Wood and opened a stoneware pottery. He left for Washington, D.C., in 1855 to help secure his father's military pension for his mother and stayed there until his death in 1880.
There is international interest in the American stoneware Bell produced. The salt-glazed, utilitarian ceramic--shaped into mugs, vases, urns, water coolers, chamber pots and more--was used by nearly every household in the 19th century.
Hunter, the journal editor, said he was aware of a few marked pieces of Fredericksburg stoneware that had been "floating around" in the past 20 years.
"I had always assumed these pieces had been made in Baltimore, perhaps for a Fredericksburg merchant," he said. "Now the story is different."
From London, Hunter said he was immediately excited about Kuebler's discovery, as word of it filtered across the Atlantic to experts in various European capitals.
"We are now able to fill in an important piece of the puzzle about Virginia economic history. In addition, stoneware is widely collected and considered an important decorative art," he said.
On Nov. 6, a major exhibition on Virginia stoneware will open at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Hunter said Ceramics in America wants to publish a full-length article on the Fredericksburg stoneware as soon as possible.
Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029