I’m grateful for the three-day weekend, but Labor Day gets so little attention in the United States. The holiday was created in 1894 to celebrate the contributions of American workers to the wellbeing of the country. I doubt that most people, if pressed, could say why they’re getting the day off.
The holiday, like the movement it recognizes, has seen better days, so I thought I’d dedicate this week’s video post to the contributions of workers in the field of ceramics. As I looked into the subject, however, I realized that we can’t really divorce ourselves from where we are in history. Many of the videos I found are postmortems on a ceramics industry that once thrived, that was once beloved, but is now gone. So it goes. I grew up in the shadows of decaying steel mills, so why should ceramic factories be any different?
There is one auspicious story in here, which we wrote about in an earlier post. It’s happy, though, so it can be a ray of hope in the middle of so much loss.
Keep the Flags Flying
We’re starting off with “Keep the Flags Flying” by Adam Georgiou. He explores the abandoned Spode factory at Stoke-on-Trent. I mentioned earlier that I grew up around abandoned steel mills. There’s something about these places that attract videographers and photographers, especially ones who live in proximity to the factory. Art students in my hometown often made pilgrimages to these places for photo projects. This isn’t to call this video trite, rather I think there’s a pervasive melancholy that draws people to these places. Labor concerns bridge nationalities and there are connections between what someone experiences in Ohio and what someone experiences in the UK. Abandoned factory voyeurism is certainly one connection.
The Last Pieces
This video is an homage to the legacy that was Royal Boch. As Americans we tend to look to the big men of history when we think of industry, as though they built every commodity themselves. Factories depend on a great many people and as such they are communities, for better or worse. When one factory shuts down the loss is felt not only by a worker, but by the worker’s family and the worker’s community. The landscape itself is wounded. Note the use of “scar” in the description.
In 1841 the pottery factory Royal Boch was founded. The city of La Louvière was built around the factory. In 2011 only one building remains of what once was a gigantic factory site. The open space is like a scar in the landscape of the city. Everyone who lives in La Louvière has a certain link with the factory. Several people talk about why the factory is so important to them and how they are connected to it. Their stories come to life by stop-motion images of the pottery.
The stop motion sets this video apart from the first one. There’s a theme with the fragmentary nature of stop motion, ceramic shards, and a broken community.
The Butter Basin
East Liverpool, Ohio is to the south of where I grew up. It sits across the river from West Virginia and its problems with the economy are similar to much of Appalachia. The town was once home to a thriving pottery industry. Fiesta had a factory there. The high school football team mascot is an angry pottery kiln.
As is the case with nearly every other industry in Ohio, ceramics in East Liverpool are all but dead. The town is now home to a branch of Kent State University, a decent hot dog shop and a lot of crushing poverty. Still, there are some workers who are hanging on by their fingernails. The Butter Basin is a little story about some of them. As I watch this video I’m less-impressed by the entrepreneur (his invention, I’m told, is actually a couple hundred years old) than by the guy loading ceramics into a kiln at the very start of the video. Born into poverty and raised in a home, the man says he only wants to stay busy. He’s happiest when he’s working. People are ready and eager to work, they just need a hand every now and then. I’ll also point out that he’s wearing a T-shirt for the Steel Trolley Diner, which is the only reason to ever visit nearby Lisbon, Ohio.
That’s all I have for this week. Hope it wasn’t too raw at times, but there’s always hope even when things look grim as hell. Happy Labor Day, everybody. If you have a good weekend, thank a worker.
Bill Rodgers is a writer for cfile.daily.