Anna Pottery & Stoneware

Union County, Illinois

The following is an article reprinted from the “Stoneware & Pottery Enthusiasts Guild of America” website by their kind permission.

 History of the Anna Pottery

by Greg Mathis from the Stoneware & Pottery Enthusiast Guild of America

Cornwall Kirkpatrick with brother Wallace, and father Andrew Sr., relocated to Anna from Mound City in the winter of 1858 and fired their first ware the following spring.

This was an important chapter in the hand craft of the traditional Kirkpatrick potting family. This is most eloquently conveyed by Ellen Paul Denker in her comprehensive collegiate master’s thesis, “Forever Getting Up Something New,” stating in her introduction

“As with all artifacts, the study of pottery provides innumerable insights into the patterns of lives past and present, patterns of both makers and users.”

The complex interpretation necessary to understand the stoneware specialty products created by the Kirkpatrick brothers reveals the rhythm of life in Illinois during the late nineteenth century. Economic conditions, social movements, the local fauna, and important local, regional, and national events are reflected in their bizarre and delightful creations.

Between 1859 and 1896 the brothers Cornwall and W. Wallace Kirkpatrick built and operated a large stoneware pottery in Anna, Union County, Illinois. Although they exhibited their wares at such important international exhibitions as the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876 and the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and at numerous local and regional fairs, their important contribution to the American pottery tradition has remained largely unrecorded in this century. Early works on American ceramics, principally those by Edwin Atlee Barber (1893), John Spargo (1926), Arthur Clement (1944), and John Ramsay (1947), provide the historian with virtually no facts about the Kirkpatricks and their business. Ramsay does include the brothers in his list of potteries, but the information is inaccurate and far from complete. Apparently Ramsey did not read the unfolding story of the Kirpatricks’ Anna Pottery which was published in five installments in the Editor’s Attic of Antiques magazine during the 1930’s.

Although the first example of Anna pottery published in the twentieth century appeared in the April, 1933 issue, it was not until the November, 1938 issue that the mystery of the location of the Anna Pottery was solved with publication of the inscribed jug in the New York Historical Society.  An article published in 1943, Art in Southern Illinois, 1865-1914, records some of the Kirkpatrick products, but it was 1974 before a thorough essay reconstructing the history of the Anna Pottery appeared. As new pieces have come to light, interest in the Kirkpatricks has increased, but no endeavor has heretofore been made to consider the historical and sculptural products of the brothers within the context of the American pottery tradition.

Locating records of the Anna Pottery has been difficult. Despite several independent attempts their daybooks and personal records have not been found. The site of the pottery cannot be archaeologically excavated because it is currently occupied by two commercial buildings and completely covered over with blacktop. Although there were at least three photographers working in Anna during the period, including one of Cornwall’s sons, only two photographs are known that relate to the pottery. Census information, where available, was helpful in this study. Union County land records were useful in sorting out problems of land ownership and management, and county histories, though not always reliable, outlined the lives of the potters. The most important primary sources were two locally published newspapers: the Jonesboro Gazette and the Farmer & Fruit Grower.

The pages of both are filled with news, anecdotes, and descriptions of the principal characters of this study, as year after year reporters captured their activities, accomplishments, and personalities. The enthusiastic hyperbole these journalists often employed breathes life into the shadowy figures of the past and allows us to meet Cornwall and Wallace as they stood among their contemporaries.  Today, the Kirkpatrick brothers are best known for the eccentric and humorous novelty wares they made as a sideline to their regular business of utilitarian crockery. I have discovered that the Anna Pottery was also important during the period as the principal producer of stoneware containers and reed stem tobacco pipes in mid America.

Among other various Midwestern industries, the Kirkpatricks business had a role in developing the economy of the region. In Chapter 1, I trace the backgrounds of Cornwall and Wallace Kirkpatrick before they settled in Anna in 1859. Chapter 2 is a history of their enterprise at Anna and a discussion of the relationship between the Anna Pottery and other Midwestern potteries. In Chapter 3, I explore the personalities, interests, and characters of the brothers. Finally, Chapter 4 is devoted to the extraordinary pottery they produced.

Anna Pigflask

Through the extension of ancient and historic European pottery traditions the Kirkpatricks produced novel stoneware forms and decorations that reflect their own time, place, and unique talents.” Elaborate Kirkpatrick yard vase with decorative Cherub handles and finger welds adorning rim.. In addition to the actual sale of outstanding kaolin fire clay, a vast array of stoneware and whimsical folk art was produced at their pottery in Union County, Illinois. As stated in Mrs. Denkers thesis, Forever Getting Up Something New:

“Cornwall and W. Wallace Kirkpatrick were quite literally born into the American pottery tradition. Their father Andrew was a potter, born in Washington, Washington County, Pennsylvannia, in 1789. He was married and had moved to Fredericktown, Knox County, Ohio, before 1814, the year of Cornwall’s birth. By 1820, the family had moved again, this time to Urbana, Champaign County, Ohio, located north of Cincinnati. In Urbana, Andrew operated a small earthenware pottery and produced approximately $1800 worth of all kinds of potters ware, annually. Andrew and Ann (Lefevre) Kirkpatrick had thirteen children. Of their ten sons, five became potters with their own potteries and four died relatively early in life. Pottery was more than a family tradition, it was a family passion.

According to Cornwall’s biography in the Union County (Illinois) history, he left the common schools of Ohio at the age of twelve to apprentice as a store clerk and bookkeeper, probably in Cincinnati. After seven years, he returned home and learned the trade of potter with his father, remaining about one year, and mastering the business before the year expired. He then spent several months working on the flatboats that piled the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers from Cincinnati to New Orleans for the purpose of “seeing the country” and though receiving but $10 per month, felt well repaid in the strange sights which met his view.  Illness sent him back to Urbana, where he went into the pottery business for himself in 1837.

He probably took over his father’s shop, because in that year Andrew, his wife, and those children still at home (including Wallace, born in 1828) moved to Vermillionville, LaSalle County, in northern Illinois. There Andrew took over a pottery begun several years earlier by John Kirkpatrick (b. 1812 – d.), another son. In 1839, Cornwall left Urbana for Covington, Campbell County, Kentucky, and married Rebecca Vance of Cincinnati. At Covington, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, he operated a pottery until 1848.

He also served two terms on the city council, probably the first of the many public offices Cornwall would hold. His first wife died in 1847, leaving him two children. By 1849, he was back in Ohio.

This time he chose Point Pleasant, Clermont County, southeast of Cincinnati along the Ohio River, where he was able to buy a pottery from Sarah Lakin on April 2, 1849. This same year he married Amy Vance, Rebecca’s sister, and bought the cabin in which Ulysses S. Grant had been born. About half of Cornwall’s production at the Point Pleasant site was reed stem tobacco pipes, while the other half was utilitarian wares, jars, bowls, pie plates, jugs, firebrick, and flue pipe. In 1850, with four employees, he was producing 35,000 gallons of ware valued at $2,450.

Pipes made at Point Pleasant have received some attention in the archaeological literature because of the variety of pipe designs produced, as well as the sheer volume of pipes turned out over the years. Little is known, however, about the shapes and decorations of the container wares made there between c. 1838 and 1890 under at least four different ownerships.

Two shards collected from the surface of the Point Pleasant site are evidence that Cornwall made salt-glazed stoneware at that time since one is signed “C. KIRKPATRICK [sic] PT. PLEASANT.” Wallace arrived from Vermillionville in 1849 to learn the pottery trade from his brother, but his stay in Point Pleasant was short. He joined the gold rush to California in 1850, arrived in Cincinnati in 1852, married, another Vance sister, Martha, and returned to northern Illinois for a brief period. Though the pottery at Point Pleasant was destroyed by fire in 1851, Cornwall rebuilt it and continued working there until about 1854. While still owner of the property in Point Pleasant, he established a pottery on Fulton Street in Cincinnati in 1854.

This may have been short-lived; although he is identified as a potter in the Cincinnati city directory of 1856, his pottery, listed in 1855, is not included in the directory lists of potteries for succeeding years. His business may not have flourished, but politically he was active. While in Cincinnati he served on the City Council and the Committee on Public Improvements. During Cornwall’s residence in Cincinnati, the Emporium Real Estate and Manufacturing Company was organized by Paul K. Wambaugh, John Fawcit, and John R. Gabriel, as a joint-stock association for obtaining a foothold in Mound City, Pulaski County, Illinois, which had been laid out in 1854 by General Rawlings.

As a contemporary historian observed, none of the above gentlemen had a dollar at the time, to gain a foot-hold anywhere; however, they surrounded the organization with the mystery of secrecy. They gave out that a secret city was Emporium. The city was to be grander than all the cities built since the downfall of ancient Rome. The imaginary gold streets of the New Jerusalem were to be duplicated in the Emporium City, the name given to this forty mile square city on paper.

Cornwall must have been taken in by this group, because late in 1857 he built a three-story pottery for the production of stoneware in Mound City. Wallace and Andrew joined him there, but may not have invested money in the project. The Mound City Pottery, managed by a manufacturing company, was supposed to be a large operation employing steam instead of horse power for grinding clay and for operating the potters wheels, but through financial mismanagement of the parties who handled the funds, [it] proved to be an unfortunate venture. Indeed, Cornwall lost his shirt. In the Census taken at Anna, Wallace’s personal estate was valued at $8000, while Cornwall’s was listed at only $150. Surface collection of shards at the Mound City site indicates that pipes were a big production item there as they had been at the Point Pleasant site. Little is known of the other wares produced during the pottery’s brief period of operation.

In Anna the Kirkpatrick brothers built the most successful of their many pottery operations. During their early peregrinations, they saw some of the country, overcame the difficulties involved in stoneware production, and established themselves as major Midwestern producers of reed stem tobacco pipes. Their movements prior to the Anna period have been ascertained more from a variety of written documents than from archaeological material. The few extant wares from these early years only hint at the scope of their production.

More will need to be learned about this period before the shapes and designs of the utilitarian and specialty wares produced at Anna can be fully understood.”

Indeed, Mrs. Ellen P. Denker’s efforts and comprehensive work shall be appreciated for generations to come.

Written by Greg Mathis, founder and chair of Stoneware & Pottery Enthusiasts Guild of America


Related Pages:

More of these resources will be linked up soon.

  • New Book on George Ohr – article from WPA Press, Vol. 15, Winter 2003
  • Illinois Art Pottery Exhibit Expands – article from WPA Press, Vol. 14, Winter 2003 that shows an Anna Pottery “Chicago Newspaper directory vase”.  For museum hours, click on this article from the WPA Press, Vol. 15, Winter 2003

Related Links: (these will open in a new window)

Anna Pottery – Illinois State Museum – Part of their online museum  Heartfelt/Handmade: 19th Century Folk Art featuring the Folk art made or used in Illinois.  Pictures of the pottery, a Wallace Kirkpatrick Snake Jug (1877), cemetery urn (1893), Portrait & short bio of Cornwall Kirkpatrick (1814-1890), and bio of Wallace Kirkpatrick (1826-1896).

llinois State Museum – Part of their online museum Making Connections there is additional information on an Anna Pottery cemetery urn (1893) not mentioned in the above link.

Lakeview Museum of Arts & Science – Highlights of the Ellis Collection of Anna Pottery is an exhibit on display at the Museum from April 21 to November 12, 2007 located in Peoria Illinois.

Anna Pottery Sells in Illinois – Article from the Maine Antique Digest with pictures & prices from an auction of Anna Pottery.