Sunday, 2 September 2012

Medalta Pottery

There's a new party in blogland!  Claudia at Mockingbird Hill Cottage has started a party for us to share  A Favorite Thing.  I wanted to join in and the hardest part was choosing WHICH of my things I loved the most!  I hate to show favouritism and I'm famously indecisive, but settled on some humble pieces of everyday pottery.

Medalta Potteries was a household name in Canada from 1916 until 1954 and was the major industry for Medicine Hat, Alberta.  My grandfather Jesse William Wyatt (Will to his family) was hired as superintendent in 1924 and travelled west, from Ontario, to his new position in a 1921 Ford touring car with his wife and five children.  The trip west is mentioned as a single line in the history books.  But, to our family, it includes two year old Jackie falling ill with pneumonia and them transferring to a train to get him there faster.  Jackie didn't survive and is remembered as, "The sweetest little boy ever.", by his sister who is ninety years old.

The old buildings are a museum today. ~

photo attribution here

My grandfather was a ninth generation, British trained, potter and master mould maker.  He designed and oversaw the massive, beehive kilns that soon dotted the landscape of the small prairie city.  He was a brilliant man and a little eccentric.  My uncle told the story of my grandfather going back to check on the kilns at night and not noticing that he had parked his expensive, new car on a pile of burning coals, until it went up in flames!    By 1929 Medalta Potteries was supplying 75% of all the ceramics in Canada and was shipping as far away as Australia.  Their bread and butter lines were everyday useful items like crocks, bean pots, chicken waterers and bed warmers.  Lamps and decorative wares soon joined the roster of over 700 items in production.

Then, the Great Depression struck and the mighty pottery was fighting for survival.  Workers reported for their shifts even though they didn't get paid. Uncle Bert said, "There was nowhere else to work so we figured we might as well show up."  My grandparents didn't get paid either.  Ranch families would trade chickens and eggs for Medalta wares.  I remember Nanny saying she didn't have any money but had lots of food.  Men rode the rails (stole rides on freight trains) to come west in hopes of finding work in the harvest. The large, brick house on the hill was the first they came to and Nanny had her kitchen maid make bacon and eggs for every one that came to her door.  She also gave each man a cigar because, "A man needs a nice smoke after a meal!".  The big house with the maid, the meals and cigars for tramps all faded away during those terrible times and my grandparents left Medicine Hat with only what could fit in a car.

You'll see me use this bowl over and over again as I cook and can. ~

It may have been made by my grandfather himself or his sons, Bert and Bill, who worked with him there.  It will certainly have been used to set bread to rise or filled with snapped beans by the women who owned it before me.

This bean pot had made it's way to Halifax, Nova Scotia for me to find in an antique store. ~

This lamp was found at my local Salvation Army store for $2. ~

The lamp had no shade so I took an old, paper lampshade from a hotel lamp and added the Medalta logo.  This shade came from an auction but you could swipe one from the next hotel you stay in.  My camera is doing something strange with the texture on the shade and making the logo look weirdly shaky but it's not like that in real life.  I made an inverted copy of the logo on a laser printer and transferred the image with a Blender pen.

And if you own a Medalta crock it may have been one that my grandfather sat on with my beloved Auntie Doe and my dad! ~ 

photo courtesy of  Medicine Hat Museum and Art Gallery

Oh, how I love these simple pieces of pottery!

I'm sharing this with ~