By: Susan A. Lebo and Maynard B. Cliff

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: April 30, 2019

The history of pottery making in Texas may be divided into two broad eras. prehistoric and historic, analogous to the divisions in archeology.

Prehistoric. Five prehistoric pottery regions can be identified in Texas: Northeast (Caddoan area) and North Central, Southeast, Central and South, the High Plains, and West. Central and South Texas pottery was heavily influenced, if not derived from, the first two. The High Plains and West Texas regions were heavily influenced by the Southwest. Pottery in Northeast Texas was derived from the Southeastern United States and lower Mississippi valley. The earliest Texas pottery (ca. 500 to 100 B.C.) was related to the Tchefuncte tradition from the latter area. This early pottery includes bone, clay, and sand tempered pastes, as well as sandy pasteware. North ofthe Sabine River, the earliest pottery is primarily clay-tempered, with bone as a minor element, often with clay and/or sand. Plain bone-tempered pottery in the Sabine drainage and Toledo Bend areas may reveal a relationship to early cultures in Arkansas. Williams Plain (ca. 100 B.C. to A.D. 1000) is the most abundant early pottery type in Northeast Texas. It is absent from the Western Sabine and Neches-Angelina basins. After A.D. 700–900, Caddoan ceramics dominated Northeast Texas, with most Caddoan elements being recognizable as local developments strongly influenced from farther east. Clay and bone tempering continued as the primary technological tradition until its replacement by shell tempering (ca. A.D. 1400 to 1500). Caddoan pottery also occurs as trade ware in east Central, Southeast, and possibly north Central Texas. North Central Texas received influence from several directions. Shell-tempered technology may have been present between A.D. 200 and 700, followed by a sandy paste pottery between A.D. 700 and 900. A more widespread clay, grit, and bone tempered pottery possibly began as early as the sandy paste material, but certainly after A.D. 1000, and continued to the end of the prehistoric period. Southern plains-related shell-tempered pottery is found in north Central Texas, dating after A.D. 1300.

The earliest pottery in Southeast Texas is from the Sabine Lake region (ca. 70 B.C.) and includes lower Mississippi valley types and attributes, as well as sandy paste Goose Creek ware and clay tempering. Goose Creek ware became widespread in Southeast Texas after A.D. 500. Similar pottery appears in the Galveston Bay area (A.D. 100–425), while clay tempering appears in this latter area by A.D. 1000. Sandy paste pottery also occurs in Central Texas, but is much less common north of the Sabine River. Pottery along the Lower Texas Coast, including Padre Island, from Baffin Bay to Matagorda Bay, is related to Goose Creek ware and is known as Rockport ware (A. D. 1200–1400 to the Historic period). It may have been made by Karankawan-speakers, as well as other coastal Indians.

In Central Texas, pottery is a late occurrence, with Caddoan trade ware being the earliest pottery in this region. Bone-tempered Leon Plain (post A.D. 1200–1300) is a distinctive Central and South Texas ware. It appears to have spread from Central Texas into South Texas, where it began to be made sometime after A.D. 1200 and continued into the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries. Goliad ware, defined from Spanish mission sites, is similar to Leon Plain, but often is thicker and distinctively decorated.

Pottery that appears on the High Plains after A.D. 200 shows influences from both the Southern Plains and the Southwest (plain and corrugated brownwares). This locally made pottery is tempered with coarse crushed rock and/or bone. Early intrusive pottery includes both Mogollón and Anasazi wares; while after A.D. 1300, tradewares include pottery from North Central, Northeast, and Central Texas. One type of pottery on the High Plains, associated with late Apache sites, consists of locally made utility wares tempered with micaceous sand. Pottery apparently imported from the Southwest in these sites consists of Anasazi glaze paint polychromes and plain utility ware. On the basis of the glazewares, the earliest of these sites may date to A.D. 1300, while the majority date from A.D. 1450–1500 to A.D. 1700.

The pottery of West Texas is strongly affiliated with that of the Southwest, with a number of intrusive types present. Locally made pottery includes El Paso Brown, which may appear as early as A.D. 100–300, and El Paso Polychrome, which postdates A.D. 1100. El Paso Polychrome is decorated with black and red horizontal geometric designs on the upper third of the vessels.

Historic. Although lead-glazed earthenwares occur on Spanish Colonial sites, no definitive manufacturing loci are known for Texas. The first evidence of historic ceramic production dates after 1830, when European immigrants produced a demand for earthenware or stoneware vessels. Limited transportation and prohibitive costs for importing stoneware clays and completed vessels made it necessary to rely on locally produced wares. Although some stoneware potteries produced earthenwares, only the Abraham Babcock Pottery in Jackson County produced them on a regular and large-scale basis. The earliest stoneware pottery was established in Rusk County around 1839 by Taylor Brown, who was granted a second-class headright to land just north of Henderson. The 1850 census of industry and manufacture lists four Texas stoneware potteries with capital over $500, three in Rusk County and one inMontgomery County. By 1860, at least eleven such potteries were operating in Austin, Bastrop, Denton, Guadalupe, Henderson, Lee, Limestone, Montgomery, Rusk, Titus, and Waller counties.

Over sixty stoneware potteries operated during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Bastrop, Bexar, Bowie, Cass, Cooke, Denton, Falls, Franklin, Guadalupe, Harris, Harrison, Henderson, Limestone, Montgomery, Nacogdoches, Parker, Rusk, Smith, Titus, Upshur, Wilson, and Wood counties. Archeological evidence has been documented for many of these potteries, including kilns and waster-sherd piles, and a few of these potteries are on the National Register of Historic Places. During the nineteenth century, wares were shipped by wagon or rail within about a 100-mile radius of the pottery. After 1915 the demand for stonewares lessened and many potteries ceased operating. A few potteries were active after 1920: for example, the Athens, Ideal, Love Field, and Southern potteries in Dallas; the Guy Daugherty Art Pottery in Denton; the Marshall, Grubbs, and Star potteries in Marshall; the Athens Pottery in Athens; and the San Antonio and Meyer potteries in Bexar County.

Potteries were located near suitable clay outcrops (e.g., the Wilcox Group and the Woodbine Formation) and included both part-time and full-time, rural and urban, kin and nonkin-related individuals. Most early potteries were operated by uncles, brothers, sons, and nephews who immigrated from other parts of the United States or Europe. Several African Americans began as slave potters at the Wilson Potteries in Guadalupe County.

Four stoneware glazes-alkaline, salt, natural clay, and Bristol-were produced in Texas, and their use varied over time and among potteries. Alkaline glazes were used in East Texas, while the other three glazes were commonly used throughout the state. Salt glaze was the most common glaze prior to 1875, when natural clay slips became popular. Bristol glazes introduced in the 1880s were initially used in conjunction with clay slips. After 1920, most stoneware vessels had Bristol glazes.

A variety of stoneware vessels were produced for household and farm use. Major forms include jugs, churns, large and narrow mouth jars, and bowls. Bottles, pitchers, sieves, water coolers, funnels, animal feeders, spittoons, chamber pots, tobacco pipes, marbles, flowerpots, and grave markers were less common. These vessels were predominantly thrown on a potter's wheel and fired in wood-burning kilns. Common kiln types included updraft and downdraft beehive and crossdraft groundhog kilns.

Georgeanna H. Greer, American Stonewares: The Art and Craft of Utilitarian Potters (Exton, Pennsylvania: Schiffer, 1981). Jack T. Hughes, "Prehistoric Cultural Developments on the Texas High Plains," Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 60 (1989). James M. Malone, Kirbee Kiln, a Mid-19th Century Texas Stoneware Pottery (Austin: Texas Historical Commission, 1979). Robert Arthur Ricklis, A Historical Cultural Ecology of the Karankawan Indians of the Texas Coast: A Case Study in the Roots of Adaptive Change (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 1990). Dee Ann Story, Cultural History of the Native Americans, in Archeology and Bioarcheology of the Gulf Coast Plain (Research Series No. 38, Fayetteville, Arkansas: Arkansas Archeological Survey, 1990). Michael E. Whalen, "Origin and Evolution of Ceramics in Western Texas," Bulletin of the Texas Archeological Society 52 (1981).

  • Archeology
  • Pottery
  • Visual Arts
  • Genres and Media

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Susan A. Lebo and Maynard B. Cliff, “Pottery,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 01, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/pottery.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 30, 2019