Traditional and contemporary potters – 32 in all – demonstrated their crafts and sold their wares at the 24th Annual Summer Pottery Festival in Powder Valley. It was held June 18 at Stahl’s Pottery, a historical landmark and museum.
The Stahl’s Pottery Preservation Society sponsored the event, held on the homestead of Thomas and Alice Stahl. The society, made up of only family members, works to preserve the traditional art of redware pottery.
This Pennsylvania German style of pottery was first made by Charles Stahl from 1850 until his death in 1896. His sons, Thomas and Isaac, then took over the business to continue with the artistry passed to them. By 1902 the family-run business could no longer compete with the pottery manufacturers of mass-production and closed its Powder Valley site.
After the two brothers went their separate ways, raising their families, several events occurred, re-establishing Stahl’s Pottery:
- Isaac, at an auction, saw the sale of some pottery that his father had originally sold for six to eight cents selling for $2.50 to $6.50.
- Local newspapers reported the death of a person referred to as “the last traditional redware potter.”
- Thomas and Isaac were now both elderly, 61 and 70, respectively, and needed additional income.
- There was still a market for their skill in redware pottery and the brothers knew the craft was not dead.
It was decided to revive the pottery business on Thomas' property in 1934, where a new wood-fired kiln was erected, and the barn turned into a storage area, work room and showroom for the finished Pennsylvania German style of pottery.
At the June 18 event, Robert Schultz, grandson of Thomas, sat in the summer kitchen of the house, now a museum, recalling his times on the homestead. “A great big iron pot hung in the fireplace [of the kitchen],” he said. “Grandpop made apple butter in it. He also made dew drops – an ice cream treat made without the cream. And I remember him making his pottery. I was 4 or 5 years old when I saw him fire up the kiln, and I helped put wood in to keep the fire going.”
According to Jason Flexer, great-grandson of Thomas, “The kiln was fired only twice a year, heating it to 1,500 to 2,000 degrees. They had no thermometer, judging the temperature by the color of the flame.”
The Stahls created many items of redware pottery – some for household use and some custom-made for decorative use. Thomas' daughter, Carrie Stahl Schultz, specialized in creating sgraffito designs. Thomas and Isaac signed and dated most of their pottery, adding "Made in Stahl's Pottery," "Powder Valley, PA" and sometimes even listing the weather or a saying as part of the signature.
Thomas Stahl died in 1942, and by the summer of 1943, when there was a shortage of materials due to World War II, Isaac was forced to stop the production of the pottery. In 1945, he resumed production of the redware pottery, and continued working until his death in 1948, when his son, Russell, took over the business. The kiln was fired for the final time in 1956.
Twenty-four years ago, the Stahl's Pottery Preservation Society Inc. was founded and began by purchasing the property from its last owner, Russell Stahl, and then set out to preserve the heritage of Stahl’s Pottery. Plans are to someday restore the property and have a working potter at the site.