Donald Carpentier, Eastfield Village
Half of the Spode mold for a medallion commemorating the ascension of King George IV on January 29, 1820. No products from this mold are currently known.
Variety of Spode sprig molds for making applied decoration, all dating from the late 18th and early 19th centuries
Interior of the top floor of the Spode slip kiln building with thousands of early molds. Some of the molds had not been moved off the upper shelves since 1840.
In the spring of 2006, the curator of the Spode Museum in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, contacted Don Carpentier because the Spode site had just been sold to a developer and the factory operations would be moved off-site for the first time since its founding in 1784. With the blessing of the Spode directors, who still owned the tools and artifacts used to make pottery for, literally, hundreds of years, Don Carpentier and his crew of one explored three enormous 18th century buildings.
They recovered from dusty shelves more than 40,000 ceramic molds (including molds for ornamental terminals, extruded handles, jug spouts and even an early hand-held mold for making cockspurs, the stilts used to separate plates during the glaze firing process). The layers of dust and soot indicated that these templates for decades of Spode production had not been disturbed since they were stored on these shelves about 1840. Don Carpentier also found more than a thousand early 19th century ornamental sprig molds; 270 early color jars used for transfer-printing inks, under- and over-glaze paints, and glaze components; and very rare small hand tools used in manufacturing pottery. Don Carpentier will share his adventures in recovering these precious objects, but also the much greater adventure of learning from them.
It literally takes a village to house the things?—?including 28 historic structures and thousands upon thousands of artifacts?—?that Don Carpentier began collecting in 1966 at the age of 14. By 19, he was rescuing buildings of the period 1790 to 1840 that were scheduled for demolition. These rescued structures came from within a 50-mile radius of his father’s farm in rural, upstate New York. Don Carpentier moved?—?and restored?—?the buildings, mostly by himself, to his father’s “east field.”
Don Carpentier chartered Historic Eastfield Village, a village that represents the rural American experience circa 1820–1840. Eastfield includes a church, two taverns, a tinsmith’s shop, a print shop and a doctor’s office. Eastfield Village is also a laboratory for duplicating the craftsmanship of earlier eras, from architecture to a wide range of domestic trades. Each summer, the village hosts an extensive series of workshops to keep alive 19th century craft traditions. Courses, for example, include instruction on making wooden barrels, techniques for plastering walls with horsehair and grain-painting architectural interiors.
Mr. Carpentier’s collecting the tools and artifacts of early trades?—?including the Spode molds and tools?—?is but a step in relearning how potters made their wares. The annual ceramics conference, also known as “dish camp,” features historians, archaeologists and working potters to teach about early ceramics, how they were made and their context in early America.
Don Carpentier was an instructor for the Building Conservation Program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. He now teaches traditional trades and craftsmanship as an adjunct professor for the building conservation program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He has consulted for numerous museums and historic sites in the United States and abroad. Mr. Carpentier has also consulted for Merchant Ivory films, such as The Europeans, The Bostonians and Jefferson in Paris, as well as Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence, and Ironweed. Another way that Don Carpentier supports his habit, Eastfield Village, is by producing reproduction mocha and lathe-turned earthenwares (discussed in the Utilitarian Pottery or Modern Art: Mocha and Related Dipwares, 1780–1840 article).