continuation of the heritage of quality handmade American crafts.please bring it inside during the winter.
Our salt-glazed stoneware and redware lines
Our home page describes salt-glazed stoneware and redware processes and we will soon be adding a factory tour page with more in depth information. Dave Eldreth has spent roughly 30 years perfecting the processes, slips and glazes you see in the products we offer. These trade secrets are what help to make our pottery unlike that of other potteries.
Dave Eldreth’s Story
I have always admired the design and craftsmanship of early American pottery. Because of this interest, I pursued my dream to create Eldreth Pottery. Starting out as a young potter was anything but perfect and far from easy. I vividly remember loading my 1972 Ford Pinto until it was straining under the weight of numerous buckets of clay that I had dug myself from a local quarry in Southeastern Lancaster County. I didn’t have money for a potter’s wheel and improvised making my first wheel from an old Maytag washing machine. It included a three-speed tractor transmission and seat. I then mounted the contraption to some 6’ x 8’ timbers I had left over from building my house. It worked great. I would start out in third gear and keep down shifting until the pot was finished. I don’t think I ever used reverse or made a pot backwards though. After solving the problem of needing a potter’s wheel, I borrowed a small kiln from my friend, John Baker, and the next thing I knew I was in the pottery business.
After a tremendous amount of trial and error, I loaded my trusty Pinto full of finished pots and off I went to sell them. The experience was both scary and exciting. I had invested a great deal of time and money into this. Would people like my product? I did not have a marketing background, so I relied on my determination and need for money to sell my pottery. I would just pull up to a shop or museum, go inside, tell them my story and they would come out to look inside my rusty steed and buy pots. Looking back, I think they felt a little sorry for me, but that was okay. By the end of the day the load of pots was gone, and both my Pinto and I were very happy. Perhaps more important was the fact that as a father of twin daughters, I would be able to buy the toys or dresses they wanted.
Life was good. My basement became “Eldreth Pottery, World Headquarters.” My wife, Faye, was both a business partner and best friend. She was a great help, especially on clay mixing days. She and I used to make the clay in an old cement mixer. We had a great time working together, and the money was a nice supplement to my teaching salary. It was hard to believe I could make money doing something I loved so much. I could have afforded to, I would have made pottery for free. Sales were great, but the world headquarters still had only one employee and three assistants (Faye and the twins). Our team needed help because, by this time, I could have turned and decorated pots in my sleep. Eldreth Pottery needed to gain more publicity before I felt comfortable hiring help. I started doing some shows and pottery demonstrations for museums and other historical venues. People started coming to my house to buy pots. Even the twins wanted to help, so they set up a small stand in the yard and would yell at passing traffic, “Pots for sale!” When someone stopped by, they would sell the seconds I had given them. They did a great job and I definitely could not compete with their prices!
When it was time for expansion, I built a small shop next to my house and experimented with different projects, including the carvings for our Santa collection. With the help of my friend and teacher, John Baker, I got up enough nerve and money to build my first salt-glaze kiln. I thought I was going to go broke before I could figure out how to fire it. The fact there is not much written on salt-glazing did not help. At the time, salt-glazing technology was a well kept secret because it was safer (no lead glaze) and more durable than the early redware. A good salt potter could put a redware potter out of business.
I had about four employees in my small shop when I met Dan Watt while on a tour of the Pfaltzgraff pottery. Dan, a process engineer, was a godsend. We had received some national exposure in some major magazines and had insurmountable technical problems at the time. Producing the quality product we had displayed in the magazines was difficult and keeping up with the demand was challenging. I remember how opening the kiln door after a firing was either like Christmas or Halloween; there was not much in the middle. Fortunately, Dan helped us get through the technical problems when he was not working at Pfaltzgraff. Despite our problems, Dan really envisioned the potential of the business, and as a result, he asked me for a job. I could not believe it. I was at a major crossroad; and it was then that I decided to seriously expand the business. Faye and I located an abandoned mushroom factory and went to the neighborhood bank. The president of the bank, Carl Fretz, had started to collect my pottery. Like Dan, he believed in me and put money behind my ideas.
My neighbor, Vonley Ray, was a self-taught country engineering genius. He could make anything, and with his know how we were up and running. Despite the tremendous amount of help I received from the bank and Vonely, this tended to be a discouraging time because I owed so much money I could not see how I would ever repay it. Vonely kept things in perspective, however, and would always tell me, “You aren’t beaten until someone is shoveling dirt in your face, so let’s get on with it.” I needed to hear that. So many opportunities arose from the numerous challenges and problems I faced along the way and I would not be where I am today if it were not for those obstacles.
Since the early days, the business continues to be an exciting adventure. I have met a lot of wonderful people and have done some interesting projects, including an ornament for the White House Christmas Tree. The company has grown to about 35 talented people. Our average employee has been with Eldreth Pottery for more than ten years. On behalf of all of us here at Eldreth Pottery, thank you for your business and I hope that you will enjoy your product for many generations to come.