John L. Stone, Texas Potter: Some New Insights
Despite the attention that John L. Stone (1850-1927) and his work have been recieving lately, substantial gaps in his biography remain. It has long been assumed, for instance, that he worked with the Kirkpatrick brothers at Anna Pottery, but aside from the compelling formal evidence found in his temperance jugs, confirmation of this has proved elusive. In fact, up until now, the relatively little known about his training and early life has come from public records and the pots themselves. Luckily, Stone himself provided the amswer: in May 1923 Brick and Clay Record published a fairly lengthy letter by Stone that detailed his current position and—albeit briefly—detailed his early career and training.
As a result of this remarkable document, we now have a better picture of Stone’s career. Here is a brief overview:
1850: Born near Morganfield Kentucky to Elijah and Malinda Wheeler Stone.
1860: Worked for the Kirkpatrick brothers in Anna, Illinois. “I began work in a pottery at Anna Ill., in 1860, when ten years old."
1866-7: Apprentice for Moses and Noah Aliff in Mound City, Illinois.
Stoneware Crock, stamped M&N Aliff / Mound City. Courtesy of Rock Island Auctions
1869: Married Fannie (Frances) E. Marshall on February 28.
1870: First to Illinois (where his son Pearl Marshall Stone was born); Worked for W.C. Knox in Olith, Texas. Census records him living next door to him.
JL Stone Temperance Jug made at the WC Knox Factory, ca. 1870-2. Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts Houston. Acc. No. B.2015.8
1880: No occupation listed in Federal Census, but as Leslie Bucher noted, he was living on the same street as John Fowler, for whom he worked.
JL Stone, Temeperance Jug, probably 1880s. Courtesy of Crocker Farm.
1889: Western Washington State, for Fox Island Brick & Tile Company.
1892: Port Orchard, Washington for Fox Island Brick & Tile Company. “…and then to Sidney Post, Orchard Bay [sic] in 1892."
After 1892: Victoria, British Columbia; Little Falls, Washington; Athens, Texas; Medicine Hat, Alberta.
1910: Working for Athens Pottery in Texas according to the Federal Census. The duration of his time here is unclear and according to his recollection in 1923, he worked after this in Medicine Hat, Alberta.
Example of a signed Stone Temperance Jug made at Athens Pottery. Courtesy of Crocker Farm.
1910s: At some point he is working in Medicine Hat, Alberta a town about 185 miles southeast of Calgary.
1923: January 19, US passport issued to Stone in Los Angeles. Probably to Guatemala shortly after this.
March: To Champerico, Guatemala. Arrived in Guatemala City by March 13. Worked for the Agricola Central Company, Ltd. Returned in May to the United States.
In many ways, the letter that Stone wrote answers maney of the questions and fills in gaps that have been, thus far, hidden from the public record. To begin with, his idiosyncratic style of spelling is probably due to the fact that he began work at age 10, was therefore functionally literate, but by no means a learned speller. Throughout his jugs and in his letter he misspells place names, even of those he has worked and lived in.
Stone’s biography is significant because it puts to rest some questions that lingered about his training and offers new avenues of research and exploration. It confirms his connection to Anna Pottery and gives a precise period against which to measure that firm’s influence upon him, although he clearly remained close to the family throughout his life. In addtion to working for the Kirkpatricks, Stone apprenticed with Moses and Noah Aliff in Mound City, and there may be traces of his presence there too. His work in Canada has been altogether unknown (at least to my knowledge) and although he was working for a brick and tile company, he was scouting suitable clays for the firm’s stoneware in Victoria, British Columbia. This pattern continued in his work for Athens and one assumes even in Guatemala.
If the decision to move (in his seventies no less) to Guatemala seems odd by our standards, Stone explained it as part of his restless nature: “At all these places,” he informed readers, “I experimented as a pioneer in a sense, and now I am pioneering in Agricola, Guatemala.” Production there consisted mainly (at the time he wrote the letter) of brick, a skill he must of learned as early as the 1890s when he travelled to Western Washington State. He probably arrived shortly after his passport was issued in January 1923, for he wrote that “I have delayed to comply with my promise to give you a write up on Guatemala and the probabilities of the clay-working business here in Agricola.” Evidently, he arrived to oversee the set-up of production as he worte of goals more than achievements in his letter to Brick and Clay Record. Even though they had located clay suitable for brick making in the 12,000 acres the Agricola Central Co. owned, there was not yet machinery in place by the time we wrote the article: “Our brick and tile machine has not arrived as yet and in the meantime I have built an old wooden pug-mill for experimental purposes.” Evidently Stone’s involvement with the venture was short-lived, for he returned to the United States on May 31, 1923 and no further evidence of travel or involvment has been located.
“The Letter Box,” Brick and Clay Record 62 (May 1, 1923): 794.
“The Anna Pottery School: Texas Stoneware Snake Jug by John L. Stone,” Crocker Farm Magazine (Jan. 23, 2010). Online at: http://www.crockerfarm.com/blog/tag/john-l-stone-texas-pottery/
Leslie Bucher, "John Louis Stone, Biographical Notes,” in William J. Hill Texas Artisans and Artists Archive (2015). Online at: http://texasartisans.mfah.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15939coll5/id/318/rec/2