By Brandt Zipp, www.commeraw.com
311 Pages. Profusely illustrated.
Those of us interested in early American salt-glazed stoneware are a curious lot, and this meticulously researched book solicits the question: "How curious are you about a free Black potter and business owner who made crocks, jugs, and other pottery in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the late 1700s and early 1800s?"
Thomas W. Commeraw, born 1771 or 1772, first appeared in the Corlears Hook area in 1794, having been born into slavery and owned by one of America’s first stoneware potters, William Crolius. When Crolius died at age forty-seven in 1779, the terms of his will freed the young Commeraw, then eight years old, who would become a renowned potter and establish a manufactory, reputation, and political consciousness of his own.
Growing up in a sleazy area of the city rife with brothels and saloons (the term "hooker" probably originated in Commeraw’s part of town), he would have served an apprenticeship of hard labor before learning to throw. "Ball boys" wedged and weighed clay for turners," working at wheels powered by spinning a flywheel with a stick, then sitting above it and fashioning a form through cycles of diminishing momentum. Learning to read and write while developing a faith life he never abandoned, all the while working in the company of skilled German potters, gave the young man a disciplined work ethic worthy of respect when he completed his apprenticeship, married, and started a family....