Seagreaves Redware: A Study In Revivalist Arts

A Short Look At JCS Pennsylvania German Folk Pottery

March 17, 2023

James Christian Seagreaves (1913-97), known as Jim to many, and his wife, Verna, lived in Breinigsville, Pa. Jim was a revivalist potter who also worked as a machinist for much of his career. Making redware pottery was technically his second career upon retirement in 1976, although he began potting prior to that. Seagreaves was known for his characteristic blending of styles that incorporated motifs and forms, techniques used by traditional Pennsylvania German potters and also that of modern 1950s ceramic art. He was especially known for press molding figural birds and using bold, brightly colored glazes. However, Seagreaves was also prolific on the wheel, where he turned mugs, bowls, and fat lamps, among other forms.
Jim was exempted from the draft during World War II because his work at the Bethlehem Steel plant was considered essential to the war effort. Later, he was a machinist for Air Products and Chemicals Inc. up until 1976. According to local historian Richard Orth, Seagreaves began experimenting with making redware pottery in the late 1940s.
Seagreaves was also known for his skillful sgraffito decorating. The mentioned press-molded birds were cast from original molds he created. Following his death, the majority of molds were destroyed to prevent reproductions. Aside from the molded work, he was very skilled at creating hand-built work and throwing on the wheel. Among the rarer items he created were face jugs, fish whistles, figural dogs and people.
Early in Jim’s potting career, he had a source for locally dug clay. Jimmy Epler dug clay for him in Fetherolfsville, a tiny intersection village in Kempton (Albany Township, Berks County) at the site of a short-lived 19th-century pottery thought to have belonged to the Brobst family. Epler lived in a primitive one-room stone homestead on the site in the 1960s.
During this period, he signed work with his initials, JS. This was mostly in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Jim soon changed to using JCS due to the fact a period potter (John Snyder of Mohrsville, Berks County) used the initials JS, and he wanted to both stand alone and not take the risk of having pieces be mistaken for non-contemporary. The bulk of his redware pottery is signed JCS.
Verna (1913-2000) was a skilled folk painter, but unlike Jim never produced her artwork on a prolific scale. She was a music teacher by profession, teaching in the Alburtis and East Penn School District, from which she retired. She was also the organist and choir director for 28 years at Zion Lehigh Lutheran Church in Alburtis, and also for the Church of the Good Shepherd in Alburtis. She was a watercolorist for roughly 40 years. Self-taught, Verna mainly worked in the Grandma Moses style of folk painting. Her work was exhibited in 1999 at the Historical Society of Berks County (now the Berks History Center). Like her husband, Verna’s artwork is known for the use of bold colors. She also assisted Jim in his pottery studio. She often signed pieces with her initials, VAS, and also Verna.
The artistic couple married in 1941, first living in Alburtis, Pa., until 1961, when then moved to Breinigsville. In 1966, the Seagreaves joined the Reading-Berks Chapter of the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsman. Their work is still regionally collected by those interested in Pennsylvania German arts.
In 2018, in Fogelsville, Pa., father/son auction team of Woody and Eric Zettlemoyer held three sales on behalf of Jim and Verna’s daughter, Claudia, who lives in Colorado and was downsizing. In total, about 350 lots of JCS pottery and 40 to 50 of Verna’s paintings were sold. The marketplace today for JCS pottery is all over the map. A few of the pieces illustrated include auction prices realized. Given recent auction prices, examples of both common and unusual forms have cooled from the high watermark heyday of the 1990s. Today, his pottery continues to come up at local sales and can often be found at markets such as Renninger’s in Adamstown, Pa., and online at Etsy or eBay.


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