Isaac & Thomas

Stahl

Text Box: ISAAC AND THOMAS  STAHL
In the thirty year hiatus from the closing of their father’s pottery business, the brothers remained in the area although not always in Powder Valley. Each of the brothers raised families of eight children. Both Thomas and Isaac engaged in a variety of entrepreneurial activities 
Before returning to pottery making, Thomas’ career included the following:
• Pursued the carpentry trade, becoming a master carpenter after apprenticing under a cousin who had a contracting business in Philadelphia
• Was part owner in a tobacco shop in Powder Valley
• Was secretary of a cottage building company located in Powder Valley
• Became well-known for his food preparation including pot cheese and “Dew Drops” (a frozen treat)
• Helped found Milford Park Campmeeting Association and served as construction supervisor for the buildings
Before returning to pottery making, Isaac’s career included the following activities:
• Woodworking
• Self-employed doing cement and stone masonry work
• Was employed for majority of this period at the Boyertown Casket Company
• During WWII, while Stahl’s Pottery was shutdown, was supervisor/inspector for bomb guidance assembly at Bally Case & Cooler (Bally, PA)
Was very active in music including giving musical instrument lessons, founding the Bally Cadet Band (Germania Band until WWI) and the Powder Valley Band, and playing in other local bands

Three events that occurred in the late 1920s and early 1930s served as the catalyst for the pottery revival, which resulted in the complex known today as Stahl’s Pottery.
1. Pieces of nineteenth-century redware made in Charles’ pottery, which originally sold for a few cents, now brought a couple of dollars at auctions.
2. Jacob Medinger, an old-fashioned Pennsylvania German redware potter in Neiffer, Montgomery County, died in a tragic kiln accident, and newspapers proclaimed the last of the Pennsylvania German redware potters was now gone.
3. Isaac’s first thought was to write to the newspapers and tell them that three brothers existed who could throw pots in the old, traditional way. Instead, he and his brother Thomas conducted research on old Pennsylvania German pottery. They discovered that these pieces were now considered historical, collectible and antiques, especially the decorative slip and sgraffito wares. Many of the finest pieces were owned by private collectors or museums like the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Text Box: In 1933, Isaac and Tom were 61 and 70 years of age respectively, when they built the 
kiln, thus reviving the pottery. They operated it together for nine years in their own
relaxed, Pennsylvania Dutch way. Tom died in December, 1942, and within a few months
Isaac closed the pottery, mainly because World War II had restricted access to potting
supplies. After the war, Isaac resumed operating the pottery until his death in 1950.
The revived pottery operated on a small farm owned by Thomas in Powder Valley. In the
winter of 1932 work began to transform the existing barn into a workroom, a clay
processing area, and a storage room. In the spring of 1933, Isaac and Tom, along with
their brother James, erected the round, wood-fueled kiln about twenty feet behind the barn.
The first pieces were fired in the new kiln in 1934. In the revived pottery, the brothers
combined their traditional nineteenth-century pottery techniques with the improved glaze
and firing techniques created by the Industrial Revolution. In addition, the Arts and
Crafts Movement, which was established in England in the late nineteenth century as a
reaction to the Industrial Revolution, impacted heavily on America. The effects of this
aesthetic movement improved the market for the Stahl’s products.
     Thomas and Isaac produced a variety of utilitarian and decorative redware ceramics,
including ordinary pieces such as bowls and pitchers, and also filled special orders for
bird baths, inkwells, and ash trays. The majority of pieces were carefully marked with the
potter's name, the date, and sometimes the weather or a personalized message for a
customer. Pieces were decorated with a variety of techniques: incising, colored glazes,
slip, and sgraffito.
After drying for several weeks, the pieces were fired in the wood-fueled kiln. An all-day
process, the kiln was stoked very early in the morning and left to burn the entire day.
Proper control of the fires in the fire boxes proved as important as the turning of the
pieces and the crucial alignment in loading the kiln prior to firing. Customers came to
witness the firing event, as it was spectacular with colored flames shooting many feet into
the air out of the vents on the top of the kiln, and there was a peculiar smell of hot clay
permeating the air. Family members often gathered for a picnic on this day, roasting hot
dogs and marshmallows and sharing family camaraderie. The kiln had to cool for about
a week before it could be unloaded. Again customers arrived on the day of unloading,
especially if they had placed a special order.