The Bethabara and Salem Communities of North Carolina are areas where Moravian potters produced many wonderful slip-decorated table wares, including molded animal bottles. The slip-decorated techniques employed may have been influenced by the Staffordshire potteries of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in England as well as by immigrants such as John Bartlam in Charleston, South Carolina.
In the tortoise glaze on the owl bottle being offered, there are similarities to other English pottery, such as Whieldon ware. It seems that English potters settling in North Carolina instructed the Moravians in producing Staffordshire ceramics. Rudolph Christ and Gottfried Aust are often credited with the instruction of various techniques incorporated in Moravian table wares and utilitarian wares. Rudolph Christ, working in Salem, oversaw the production of molded techniques used to produce the unique grouping of animal bottles such as the owl form. It appears that production of these molded pieces and other slip decorated wares continued from the late 18th century right into the 19th century, mainly around the Bethabara and Salem communities.
The figural and animal bottle molds that do survive give an indication of the complexities in creating these wonderful and rare examples, some of which can be seen in the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Old Salem.
Gottfied Aust was the first to produce press molded earthenware in North Carolina. The molded wares he and others produced included stove tiles, pipes, table and tea wares, as well as animal bottles. It is believed that carved wood models were made to produced the various animal forms. Animal bottles came in many forms, including fish, turtles, squirrels, chickens and owls. The owl bottles came in two sizes, each slightly different in design. As mass produced lead glazed earthenware, these bottles came to be widely accepted and serviceable to the surrounding communities. Their design had wide appeal at a time when the local consumers had the means to acquire such goods. The bottles may have had multiple uses. Since they are unglazed on the inside, as seen in the offered owl bottle, they would likely have been used for dry storage. Similarities can be found in the glazes and details of owl bottles produced in British and European jugs and figures.
Until the discovery of the present bottle, only four Moravian owl bottles were known. The offered bottle appears to be a previously undiscovered example of a very rare and desirable form. Related examples are in private collections and museums. The owl bottle we offer most closely relates in design and glaze to one at Old Salem Museums and Gardens. Cf. "Ceramics in America" edited by Robert Hunter and Luke Beckerdite, page 117, figures 21 and 22.
Robert Hunter and Luke Beckerdite, Ceramics in America, Chipstone Foundation, 2009
Frances McQueeney-Jones Mascolo, Art in Clay Masterworks of North Carolina Earthenware, Antiques and The Arts Weekly, January 12, 2010
Laura Beach, Art in Clay Masterworks of North Carolina Earthenware, Antiques and the Arts Weekly, March 18, 2011