Stoneware Butter Churn

Paul Cushman (1767-1833), Albany, NY
Date: 1809
Maker: Paul Cushman (1767-1833), Albany, NY
Dimensions: 14 1/4 H
Materials: Stoneware with incised and cobalt blue decoration

Impressed on shoulder between upper bands, with cobalt wash: PAUL•CUSHMAN's:STONE•WARE•FACTORY•1809 / HALF•A•MILE•WEST OF ALBANY•GOAL•

Credit: Gift of John P. Remensnyder
Accession Number: 1977.20.4

This highly decorated butter churn is a masterpiece of folk design and a visual expression of regional folklore. Why the potter and decorator put so much effort into this piece, when others received no decoration, is not known. Many highly decorated stoneware vessels were presentation pieces or were commissioned. Still, such whimsical embellishments on a utilitarian butter churn are charming and unexpected. The strange scene of a cow suckling a fish at the bottom of the churn refers to the abundance of sturgeon sold and consumed in Albany at the time. The fish was so common that locals called it "Albany beef." Paul Cushman was one of the founders of a regional stoneware industry that spanned the Upper Hudson Valley. When he moved to Albany around 1800, there were few local potters, but his pottery works became a long-lived and successful business that also initiated a century of tremendous growth and expansion in regional stoneware manufacturing.