Anne Goda, a member of the Stahl's Pottery Preservation Society, stands before the kiln speaking to visitors at the 5th Annual Stahl's Pottery Fall Festival held last Saturday at the Powder Valley pottery.
History and beauty were captured in a way only potters know how at the 5th annual Stahl’s Pottery Fall Festival on October 6 in Powder Valley, Lehigh County.
The name Stahl has been synonymous with pottery since the 1840s when Charles Stahl began the business along the Indian Creek. He taught his trade to his sons, Isaac and Thomas, who continued producing redware pottery for everyday use and decoration from 1934 until 1950. Isaac’s son Russell also ran the pottery establishment and kiln, which was last fired in 1956.
The pottery festival was created by descendants of Thomas Stahl who formed a non-profit organization, Stahl’s Pottery Preservation Society Inc., and purchased the Stahl property in 1987.
Today, it is their hope to preserve the site located in the peaceful countryside of Powder Valley and educate community members of the art of pottery making as well as bringing various artisans together to exhibit their work.
Descendants of the Stahl family were abundant at the festival and very quick to offer an explanation or story about their ancestors.
Isaac and Thomas Stahl signing pottery pieces. The brothers produced a variety of utilitarian and decorative redware ceramics. The majority of pieces were carefully marked with the potter's name, the date, and sometimes the weather or a personalized message for a customer.
Throughout the festival, which ran from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., guided tours were provided of the pottery buildings and kiln. There were also demonstrations on Raku making and firing, the pottery wheel, and children were permitted to try the potter’s wheel to better understand the process from start to finish.
Raku making, as explained in a pamphlet, is a piece of pottery fired until the glaze melts then the piece is placed into various combustible materials such as newspaper, sawdust or dried leaves and grasses. The gas and subsequent smoke accents colors and metallics from the materials burning which then becomes embedded in the glaze cracks. Each piece is unique in appearance. Demonstrators for this distinctive art were provided by Chris and Dani Fisher of Clayote Gallery and Studio in Boyertown.
Pottery wheel demonstrations were provided by Jessica Greet of Fairydust Pottery in West Chester, Nell Hazinski of Nell Hazinski Pottery in Phoenixville, and Tom Longacre of Longacre Pottery in Phoenixville.
The festival offered exhibits from over 20 potters which were available for purchase. The pieces ranged from more traditional ware to piggy banks, necklaces, and small plates or serving bowls. Some pottery pieces had more intricate designs while others displayed beautiful color arrangements.
The Thomas and Alice Stahl House Museum was also open for viewing. After crossing the threshold of the historic home, visitors were greeted by a descendant of Thomas and Alice Stahl who explained the workings of the small sitting area and fireplace. Entering further into the home, large glass display cases housed various pottery made by the Stahl family.
Potter Bill Jones of Stones Throw Pottery assists Gabriel Huff with shaping a piece of clay on the wheel during a teaching demonstration.
The kitchen area of the home, which was very well preserved, presented an old wood stove for cooking, table, couch, baby’s crib, and more intimate details of decoration of the home. A true sense of the Stahl family, and their love of pottery making, could be felt.
Another short walk across the property introduced the rather large, stone kiln approximately 16 feet high and 16 feet wide with a three-sided wood frame structure surrounding it. After Thomas and Isaac created their redware pieces from clay found in several fields in the area, they would place them inside the kiln. The kiln itself could hold about 2,000 pieces at a time.
Four fire boxes, two in the front and two in the back, which would disperse the heat to the pottery. Several helpers, usually the son-in-laws to the Stahl family, fed the fire with mainly chestnut wood to the desired temperature range of 1675 to 2200 degrees Fahrenheit.
A typical firing would start in the early morning hours and go well into the night using two to three cords of wood each time which is why the family chose to fire the kiln only twice a year.
Next to the kiln, in the potting shed, a large quantity of Stahl pottery still remains for visitors to explore. The pug mill is also housed in the potting shed which is where the clay from the ground was kept at a consistency appropriate for pottery making.
The festival provided a day of history, beautiful pottery, friendly faces, delicious refreshments, and some hands-on activities for children as well as adults. Come out to next year’s festival, June 15, 2013, to explore the art of pottery while celebrating the Stahl family's ancestors.