Sgraffito pottery ranks among the most beautiful, rarest, and most expensive of the Pennsylvania Dutch pottery. The term derives from the Italian word for "scratched" and refers to pottery with elaborate designs scratched on the surface.
Originating in Old World European countries, the American form of this folk art can be found almost exclusively in Pennsylvania. There are few surviving items that were created outside the state.
Historically, these plates, mugs, flower pots, vases, and jugs were intended for display in the home or in country stores. However, sometimes the pieces were actually used for practical purposes.
Although examples of sgraffito can be found from as early as the 1760's, the heyday of this art form tends to be between 1810 and 1840. It fell out of fashion by the 1870's.
The most desirable examples are first slip decorated usually in light colors. What this means is that color was applied in the glaze. A design is then scratched through to the red clay before it dried. Sometimes more than one color is used in the glaze.
The designs that are scratched into the glaze vary. The designs that are common in the Pennsylvania Dutch region tend to include flowers such as tulips, trees, leaves, birds, deer, fish, and human figures.
Inscriptions were also often scratched into the borders of large plates and pots. The inscriptions tended to be in German rather than English. The words range from the humorous to the philosophical and moral.
For collectors, the most desirable and valuable of the pieces bear the name of the potter etched into the work.
For more on Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Art created by local Lancaster, PA artists, please see:
If you're interested in learning more about Lancaster County's unique folk art during your visit, why not check out some of the best
Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Art museums
where you and your family can experience firsthand this rich and complex and relatively unknown artistic culture.
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