By Lauren Brincat, Curator and Gary Hammond, Collections Volunteer
On July 9, 1880, Huntington’s Long Islander newspaper reported that “Edward Lange has just completed a handsome watercolor view of the Brown Bros. pottery on the East Side of Huntington Harbor, and includes a portion of the harbor.” At the time, it is doubtful anyone realized that this simple announcement was for what would become one Long Island’s most iconic paintings.
German-born Edward Lange (1846–1912) was a prolific artist who settled in Elwood on Long Island. During the 1870s and 1880s, he painted the bordering towns of Huntington, Greenlawn, Northport, Commack, and Dix Hills with extraordinary precision. His landscapes are remarkable for their architectural detail and documentation of everyday life. They are filled with horse-drawn vehicles, people doing chores, barnyard animals, weathervanes, and industrial buildings. The thirty artworks by Edward Lange in Preservation Long Island’s collection are a treasure trove of information about Long Island life long ago.
In 1985, Preservation Long Island mounted the landmark exhibition, Useful Art: Long Island Pottery. Featured prominently on the front cover of the publication was the newly acquired Brown Brothers Huntington Pottery. The previous owner had found the painting rolled up in the home of Carrie E. Brown (1880–1976), the granddaughter of one of the owners of the pottery. Recognizing the watercolor’s historic significance, he promptly had it restored, matted, and framed. It was not until last year that we carefully removed the painting from its old 1980s overmat and frame and uncovered an exciting surprise.
Thanks to generous funding from the NYSCA/GHHN Conservation Treatment Grant Program, we were able to take the watercolor to works on paper conservation specialist Andrea Pitsch for a condition assessment and conservation treatment. Upon removing the old acidic mat, we discovered a wonderful, fragmented border that proudly proclaims: “BROWN BROTHERS / HUNTINGTON POTTERY / HUNTINGTON L.I. / ESTABLISHED…” Sadly the rest cannot be deciphered. No one knows for sure when the pottery was established, but we do know that it occupied its site along Huntington Harbor as early as 1805. The pottery may even date to well into the mid-eighteenth century, but no documentary evidence exists.
Edward Lange’s Brown Brothers Huntington Pottery captures in vivid detail one of Long Island’s oldest and largest potteries, providing a rare depiction of a nineteenth-century American kiln site and a local industry that relied on clay, one of the region’s most abundant and important natural resources. With many of its potters hailing from the Hudson Valley, Huntington was part of a significant network of potteries that grew up in the 1800s, making New York State one of the nation’s leading pottery producers.
In a “For Sale” advertisement dated March 24, 1813 in New York’s National Advocate newspaper, the Huntington Pottery is described as manufacturing both stoneware and earthenware vessels. It further states that “on said premises is a shop fifty feet long, twenty feet wide, two stories high, a cellar under the whole, good Stone and Earthenware Kilns, a dwelling-house convenient for two families, a store-house and barn, a large wharf with eight feet water in front; also an excellent quality of clay of different kinds near the Factory, particularly calculated for stoneware; also plenty of pine timber growing within a few miles of the premises.”
Fifty years later, George, Stephen, and Thomas Brown, brothers from Poughkeepsie, took over the pottery. Brown continued to use the same buildings described in 1813. They were still there when Lange painted the site in 1880, but with one noticeable addition. To the left of the image is George Brown’s “new” house—the very structure in which this painting was discovered a century later. On February 2, 1873, the Long Islander newspaper noted its construction: “Mr. George Brown, one of the partners of this firm, is building a handsome two and a half story house 24 x 34, near the site of his present residence, just above the pottery…” The home still stands today.
In typical Edward Lange fashion, the painting is extraordinary for the amount of information it conveys about the business. Both the earthenware and stoneware kilns are fired up, presumably with the cords of wood stacked in the yard nearby. Surviving accounts in the collection of the Huntington Historical Society indicate that Brown’s customers not only paid in cash, but in cords of “seder” (cedar) and oak as well. Although not marked, the vessel is believed to be the Mary Emma Suydam, a sloop owned by Brown for the shipping of wares and the bringing in of raw materials. Three men are shown on the sloop: one loading stoneware into the hold and two others working on the sails fore and aft. Brown generally had four men in his employ who labored for ten hours a day and earned about $1.50 each day. In total, nine workers are depicted in the paining—some carrying pots and wood, another using a wheelbarrow, and two others loading up one of the several delivery wagons Brown operated across the Island.
At its height, the Brown Brothers Pottery consumed approximately 300 tons of clay a year, burned through 300 cords of wood, and used 60 baskets of salt, which created the salt-glazed finish on stoneware when vaporized in the kiln. Sailing into Huntington Harbor in 1880, one could not mistake the little industrial complex. Perched high on the roof was the boldly painted sign: “BROWN BROTHERS POTTERY.” For over forty years, the Brown family supplied Long Islanders with beautiful, utilitarian wares that were essential for food preparation and storage. But with decreasing demand in the early twentieth century, the pottery closed down as new materials and technological advances changed the way Long Islanders lived every day. In July of 1902, the contents of the pottery were sold off. Over one hundred years later, Lange’s beautifully detailed Brown Brothers Huntington Pottery is a vivid reminder of this important manufacturer and an industry that thrived on Long Island for centuries.
Be sure to check out the painting when our Exhibition Gallery in Cold Spring Harbor reopens this fall!
Preservation Long Island is grateful to the NYSCA/GHHN Conservation Treatment Grant Program administered by Greater Hudson Heritage Network with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts for making this conservation treatment possible. Additional support for Long Island conservation projects was also provided by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.