Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Born of the Mud: The Story of a Collection

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Born of the Mud: The Story of a Collection

Article excerpt

My wife and I discovered Stoin's work as we developed a plan to guide future acquisitions, eventually using his associations with nearly a dozen potteries as that plan. Today, the Bill and Dorothy Paul Collection of American Pottery includes 2,000 clay objects from more than one hundred potteries in twenty-five states. The collection, stored in a barn, is organized by colors, forms, and manufactories that are mixed with other art works and artifacts. Moving through the collection is like exploring a large cabinet of curiosities and can be as captivating as Stoin's pottery.

Stoin (1895-1988) emigrated from Bulgaria to Ohio between 1920 and 1922. Though details of his first years in Ohio are sketchy, he was employed in 1926 at the Houghton Pottery in Dalton to develop a line of decorative pottery to complement the existing inventory of utilitarian wares. Stoin's rustic forms, based on Eastern European aesthetic traditions, including Bulgarian folkcrafts and pottery, were simple vessels for holding cut flowers, bulbs, or vines and other foliage. Some pieces were glazed with solid blue or maroon hues, but most were glazed with freely sponged green colors over light gray underglazed surfaces.

Stoin was enchanted by the asymmetrical naturalism of his glazes, and his use of the unpredictable flowing colors suggested aspects of Japanese aesthetics, especially Zen Buddhist notions about the perfection of all things just as they are at any given moment. His fascination with freefalling, sponged, wiped, or sprayed glaze continued for more than fifty years, and his use of those techniques became defining characteristics of his work.

In 1928, Stoin joined the staff of the Weller Pottery in Zanesville, Ohio. There, he turned pottery in the factory showroom while customers watched. In addition to his compelling and charismatic skills with tourists and customers, Stoin designed and produced inventories for seven wheel-thrown lines of pottery with specific glazes, colors, and decoration techniques for each group. Those lines - Ansonia, Coppertone, Nile, Juneau, Fleron, Velvetone, and Barcelona - usually marked "Weller Ware Hand Made" or "Weller Hand Made."

Though not shown in Weller catalogs as a named line, an array of mostly mold-made forms was decorated with mottled green glazes. Color variations and simulated textures of luminous green resulted from transparent washes of light blue and green glaze material over yellow bisquefired Ohio clay. It's quite likely that Stoin invented the glaze, and he also may have designed some of the clay forms it decorated. A second group of wares was covered with similar black mottled glazes over subtle Mars yellow underglazes. Tiie black/brownish color palette was completed with random olive green accents that were created by spots and blotches of thin, transparent and sometimes runny black pigment over the ochre grounds.

In the late spring of 1929, Stoin and his family moved to Monmouth, Illinois, where he expected to expand the art pottery division of the Western Stoneware Company, a conglomerate of seven potteries. However, a factory fire and economic problems imperiled the enterprise. Though a few pieces of Stoin pottery were issued for the 1929 Monmouth pottery line, he returned to Ohio before year's end.

In 1931, Stoin accepted an invitation from Arkansas entrepreneur Charles Dean Hyten to diversify production at the Niloak Pottery in Benton. His first collection, Hywood Art Pottery, included sixty-two wood-fired shapes decorated with nine unique, secret glazes. The collection was a stunning success, but a disagreement between Stoin and Hyten sullied future collaborations. …

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