Sunday, December 1, 2013

OLD KENTUCKY POTTERY



Above is a vintage photo that was featured on a postcard put out by the Kentucky Historical Society a few years back.   It features a bunch  of pottery just outside the door of  Bybee Pottery located in Bybee, Kentucky. I assumed it was a photo of their production on that day long ago? 

This postcard made me curious about Bybee Pottery so I decided to visit the place several months ago when I still lived in Kentucky. When I got there the pottery place was closed up tight and not a sign of life surrounded the exteriorPerhaps I had come on the wrong day?





Above are the buildings I found that day when I visited. All the attached buildings appeared in great shape but they gave off a ghostly feeling of desertion.

The large sign above the door announced "Bybee Pottery founded 1809!" 

I did a little research and found that Bybee Pottery had suspended operation in 2011. I was just two years late in my visit to the place.

Additional research turned up the following information on Wikipedia:

"Bybee Pottery, is a 200-year-old pottery company based in Bybee, a community in Madison County, Kentucky, USA. It was founded in 1809 by Webster Cornelison and members of the same Cornelison family."

Bybee pottery was well known nationwide for their pottery. Once they made just utilitarian pieces but eventually they made decorative pottery items too. Link to an article about the family that has operated this business since its founding.  

Below is an example of just one of the many types of Bybee ware that was made by the company. 



Lg. vintage hand thrown spongeware Bybee pottery pitcher/signed BB./Kentucky
found on ebay for sale

This wonderful company of Americana items is another example of our declining base of local companies in the U.S.

Sorry about that folks  



28 comments:

  1. Yes, we have sold our souls to China via WalMart. So sad.

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    1. Florence -- Along with the movement of selling our souls to China and Walmart is the loss of personalized local service that small companies give us. What is in store for us in the future? -- barbara

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  2. I love this pottery. Always a shame when a business like this cannot make it anymore.

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    1. Michelle -- Unfortunately many small family businesses are struggling because of competition from the big guys. You are fortunate to live where there are Bybee pieces still available to buy -- like at antique stores or house sales.-- barbara

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  3. Bye-bye Pottery then!
    What a shame when these places go out of business.

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    1. John -- So many of the non-corporate types have lost their footing and gone belly-up -- many family run. Sprawl into our farmlands and open spaces has brought Walmarts and similar stores. Amazon is driving out small bookstores. Tough to compete. -- barbara

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  4. With their closing surly several jobs were lost, the town lost taxes and the whole community was poorer. And perhaps there is a family story as well -- a business the children were not interested in continuing. It's a complex web of change -- the really staggering change in American small town life over the past 50 or so years.

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    1. June -- from what I have read about the pottery place it was a very small operation -- about six employees. The pottery is located in a "very" rural area. Beautiful! However, from my reading there is hope that the family will again be able to reopen their business. Economics played a part in suspending their operations but the interest in the business is still vibrant. I agree with you -- it is a complex web of change for small towns and rural areas.

      I worked with regional planning for awhile after I retired. I came face to face with small towns and their problems. Unfortunately the only real economic help came to them if they could turn their towns or farm areas into tourist attractions. Don't know what current grants are now available. It is a staggering problem with no end in sight to the eventual demise of open land and small towns. But there is always hope for a turnaround.

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  5. Interesting. There are many local artisans these days but few local small manufacturers.

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    1. Hattie -- Manufacturing is dying on the vine in our country. I was raised in a family that most members were either farmers or worked for the car industry. The car industry created many sub-industries in Michigan. Now I am hearing from old Michigan friends how whole huge manufacturing facilities stand on the landscapes of Michigan empty or have been torn down. I am sure many of the surrounding rust belt states are experiencing the same. So the boomers get to make 8.00 dollars a day IF they can find a job that is. Ever walk through a Walmart or similar store and just out of curiosity try to find any item that is made in the US -- almost impossible. Our manufacturing infrastructure is almost totally gone. Politicians along with corporations gave our country away to foreign manufacturers.
      Artisans can find their way still but manufacturing workers are being wiped out as manufacturing plants are being wiped out in the US. -- be they small or large.

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  6. 2011 is not so long ago...too bad they couldn't have hung on. Maybe they will be able to reopen at some point in the future; it would be a shame to lose a historical business like this!

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    1. Melissa -- Hopefully this family business is being well documented as it is a great example of a pioneer business in KY. I believe that I read that there were once about 50 potteries of this type but now this is is the only one left -- remaining only as a skeleton of buildings. thanks -- barbara

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  7. Hi Barbara. Oh, it is very sad indeed. It is encouraging to see some artisans making a go of it by selling their creations on-line these days, but it is sad to see so many family-owned businesses dying. I really believe they will come back one day though. I am hopeful anyway :) BTW, I really enjoy your comments on my blog (thank you!) and I love the links you leave for me. I have visited them all and have always found them interesting and informative. Keep 'em coming ;)

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  8. Indeed. When I was a boy my parents would drive from down from St. Paul to Red Wing Minnesota and a large pottery. I'm sure its long gone now but the huge crocks they made are still around and at my Grammas they were used for making large batches of sauer kraut.

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  9. No need to apologize. Every time big box stores or what have you open up places like this go away. Great post!

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    1. One Fly -- Yes I know they do -- I'm living temporarily in this large city of Vancouver and is all I see are cars, and people shopping at the box stores. I almost took a photo of a strip mall that had stores in a row that looked like cardboard boxes of various sizes. Keeping my eye out for some country property. thanks -- barbara

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    2. I wasn't going to say Vancouver is the pits, but it indeed is.

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    3. Hattie -- let the truth be known -- thanks -- barbara

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  10. Every now and then young craftspeople find their way to places like these. I saw it happen around research triangle in North Carolina with potters about 15 years ago. Of course, they were near high population area--and not trying for manufacturing.

    Could I send my copy of Puckett's "Five Photo-Textual Documentaries" your way? You could then pass it along to someone else--or a willing library. My email is at top of blog "Contact Me" link. Would lighten up the resident accumulation.

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    1. naomi -- Bybee pottery was what I would term as a rural (or primitive) manufacturer. The employees were either family or neighbors. Perhaps I should have chosen a better word than manufacturers. In the early days of KY there were about 50 potteries reflecting the clay and aura of the land.

      You certainly are kind to offer Puckett's Five Photo-Textural Documentaries to be sent my way. I certainly love reading material especially about photography. I am sending my email to you when I close this comment. thanks -- thanks very much -- barbara

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  11. A very interesting bit of local history research. When one strat to look a bit under the surface, many interesting things can be found. I'm afraid the problem you refer to is fairly common over here too..

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    1. RuneE -- Sorry that your country is undergoing the same trouble with businesses. Our world is changing fast -- where will it all end up? -- thanks barbara

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  12. I've always heard of Bybee pottery and am sorry to hear they have closed.

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    1. Vicki -- Now we can go to Walmarts to buy our artisan wares (tongue in cheek). thanks -- barbara

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  13. It does have a 'ghostly feel' to the buildings. Life moves on.

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    1. It does seem that vacant buildings do get an aura of loneliness about them -- thanks -- barbara

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  14. A very interesting & historical post, Barbara...I guess it's evolution but here in Maine, especially in the country & small towns, people are working hard to keep small, local traditions of craftsmanship going. I was struck in France at the reverence for artisan made goods...

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    1. Rita -- There are still some potteries in KY that are small and traditional. They are few compared to what once was in Kentucky. Kentucky has been known for its traditional rural arts for decades. It is the subject of many books.They have maintained their traditions of food, seeds, quilting, basketry, folk art and more. One of my favorite crafts was the woven bottom "sittin" chairs that are only made by a few craft persons now. Again these chairs once were made in abundance all over KY.

      Bybee had a history that would be difficult to replicate. thanks for letting me know about your state -- it is good to hear -- barbara

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