The sign on the Warren Street Bridge — “Trenton Makes, the World Takes” — was once absolutely true, especially so for the pottery industry and trades.
Trenton was one of the top pottery centers in the United States. By the late 19th century, hundreds of independent potteries operated within the city, providing employment for potters, modelers, decorators, and designers. So important was the industry that a Trenton-based School of Industrial Arts opened in 1898 to train students interested in the pottery trades.
In the later 1800s Thomas Maddock Jr. and his son John founded some of the foremost ceramic companies in Trenton. Another chapter in Trenton history began when Thomas married Alice Capes, a widow with an outstanding New England pedigree — going back to Miles Standish, captain of the Mayflower. She also happened to be a successful and affluent businesswoman in New York City and possessed a fine collection of pottery and porcelain.
Alice understood that the Industrial Arts students could be helped greatly if they had ceramic models at the school to study and decided that the School of Industrial Arts would be the logical place to act as her collection’s custodian. Upon her death in 1902, the collection went to her nephew, Sydney Maddock, who gave it to the city of Trenton, as she had wished.
Now — after years in storage — “The Alice Maddock Collection: A Gift to the City of Trenton” is back on view on the second floor of the Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie, in Cadwalader Park, through Sunday, June 15. A gallery talk on the history of the Maddock Pottery Companies in Trenton will be held at the museum on Sunday, April 27, at 2 p.m. John Maddock, a descendant of Thomas Maddock, and William Liebeknecht, principal investigator for Hunter Research, Historical Consultants, will speak.
This meticulous exhibit of Alice Maddock’s vast collection was curated by Brenda Springsted, a retired archaeologist and educator and current trustee of the Trenton Museum Society as well as the Potteries of Trenton Society (POTS).
“Alice lived in New York City and ran the Russian baths there,” Springsted says. “She was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution as well as the society of Professional Women in New York City and London. From 1882 to 1889 she was married to Thomas Maddock Jr. (who pre-deceased her), and she wanted to give her collection to the city of Trenton because we had such an important pottery center. The School of Industrial Arts ended up as custodians of the collection; that school became Trenton Junior College, then, eventually, Mercer County Community College.”
“In the 1980s Mayor (Arthur) Holland was concerned that the collection was being dismantled, lost and/or stolen, so he gave it to the City Museum, and after some legal wrangling, it’s here on permanent loan,” she says.
Springsted explains that the exhibit also contains the John Hart Brewer Collection, the Edmund C. Hill Collection, and the Edward C. Stover Collection. Before the official opening of the Alice Maddock Exhibit in 1904, Hill, a trustee of the School of Industrial Arts, gave money to purchase certain important pieces. In response to Hill’s gift and in memory of congressman and pottery manufacturer John Hart Brewer, members of the Pottery and Porcelain Manufacturers of Trenton purchased the Brewer Collection to donate to the new ceramic museum as well.
“So we have a lot of very nice stuff here,” Springsted says. “The students at the school would have used the ceramic pieces to study design technique, how you make things especially interesting. I think Alice’s idea was, because we (in Trenton) did a lot of blue transfer print, that would be of interest to the students. It was certainly her own personal interest.”
A visitor to the museum might get lost in a sea of blue in the room that houses the earliest pieces, adorned with scenes of English and American countryside vistas and Greek and Roman mythology. Because foreign trade and travel became less difficult in the 19th century, books were filled with illustrations inspired by visits to Africa, India, China, and the Far East. These illustrations often included animals from far-flung places. Images of lions, polar bears, zebra, reindeer, and more were adapted into ceramic design, and can be seen gracing many pieces in the Maddock collection.
It is also amusing and somewhat mind-boggling to notice the plethora of dinnerware pieces, way beyond serving platters, tureens, and finger bowls. The Maddock collection has examples of special containers for celery, pickles, and sardines, as well as small bowls to hold salt, mustard, and other condiments. When Maddock’s Lamberton Works, one of his china-producing companies, was crafting high-quality commercial dinnerware for railroads, restaurants, and hotels, there were more than 120 forms for various pieces.
Between the exhibit rooms is a foyer with two wooden and glass exhibit cases that house a sampling of the Maddock collection’s finest pieces.
“This is the probably the best of the best, very valuable pieces,” Springsted says.
One of her personal favorites is a Minton footed urn, pate-sur-pate on a teal blue background, decorated by Leon V. Solon, late 19th and early 20th-century artist, sculptor, and decorator. Solon crafted a Greek goddess spinning and capturing putti (winged “boy-angels”) in her web. This particular piece was part of the Edmund Hill collection.
Springsted says getting the Alice Maddock pottery exhibit up and going has been in the works for quite some time. She had put together a number of small exhibits over the years at POTS and Ellarslie, some of which included pieces from the Maddock collection.
“More recently, we’ve been doing some bigger exhibits — such as the Trent Tile Molds — for the Trenton Museum Society’s 40th anniversary, and I’ve wanted to get the Maddock collection out, to really assess what it included,” Springsted says. “Well, I got my wish! What a tangled history it has, and it’s made (the endeavor) far more challenging then I imagined.”
“I was helped a great deal by a group of volunteers from the HR department of Princeton University, who came over one day and unpacked all 26 boxes and stored them under the cases for exhibit,” she adds. “That was the first time I had seen all the treasures from (the collection).”
Raised in Summit, New Jersey, Springsted moved with her family to the north-central United States when she was 12, when her father’s profession in the papermaking business took them to Minnesota. She says her parents always had interests in travel, museums, and galleries, and her father was a trustee at the Saint Paul Science Museum.
Springsted had initially wanted to pursue Egyptology and chose Pembroke College at Brown University in Rhode Island. She rotated away from that course of study because of the difficult and numerous languages required.
“Instead I took anthropology and archaeology with James Deetz,” Springsted says. “Once I began studying American historical archaeology, I got hooked. After college I came home to a job at the Minnesota Historical Society (where we explored) lots of privies which contained historic ceramics. In fact my father wanted me to be a ‘privy expert.’”
She earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 1972, then did her graduate work at New York University, studying with the late Bert Salwen in the department of anthropology, writing her thesis, “Ringoes (N.J.): An Eighteenth Century Pottery Site.”
After Brenda married Eric O. Springsted, the couple moved to Jacksonville, Illinois. Eric had earned his PhD at Princeton Theological Seminary and worked part-time as a teacher and minister while writing his thesis on Simone Weil, the French philosopher, Christian mystic, and political activist (1909-1943). He took a position at Illinois College, a small Presbyterian College, where he was chaplain as well as an educator.
During this time, while raising a family, Springsted also taught at Illinois College for three years, a period that included excavations of one of the historic buildings on campus. Springsted then received grants to study and write about the 17th-century delftware factory in Burlington, New Jersey, “the most unusual and only one in this country,” she says.
The family returned to Princeton when Eric took a sabbatical to further pursue his theology studies. In addition to being a prolific author, he is now an interim Presbyterian minister, specializing in pastoral transitions in churches in the region, and is currently at Swarthmore (PA) Presbyterian. The couple has three adult daughters, Simone, Leidy, and Elspeth.
Back in New Jersey, Springsted went to work at URS, a contract archaeology firm in Burlington, then later took a position at Richard Grubb and Associates, Cultural Resource Consultants, in Cranbury. From 2003 to late 2011, Springsted’s title at RGA was lab supervisor and material culture specialist, where she was involved in processing artifacts and supervising crews throughout the mid-Atlantic states.
“In 2003 we moved from Montgomery to Bellevue Avenue in Trenton, a block from the Ellarslie Museum,” Springsted says. It seemed only logical for her to become a trustee with the museum and with POTS.
“Now in addition to getting the Maddock exhibit up, I am trying to make sure every piece is photographed and cataloged properly,” she adds. “But it’s all been worth it. I enjoy the exhibiting aspect of culture, history, and art. Basically, in my career, I have been an opportunist with a special interest in historic ceramics, learning as I go with each new experience.”
The Alice Maddock Collection: A Gift to Trenton, Trenton City Museum at Ellarslie, Cadwalader Park, Trenton. On view through Sunday, June 15. Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m.
Gallery Talk, “The Maddock Pottery Companies of Trenton: An Overview,” with speakers William B. Liebeknecht and John Maddock. Sunday, April 27, 2 p.m. 609-989-1191 or www.ellarslie.org.