Winchester, VA., 07/31/13… A rare matched pair of pottery whippet figures made by Valley potter Samuel Bell (1811–1891) will soon be on view in the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (MSV). Both signed "Samuel Bell / Winchester Sept 21 1841," the figures are believed to be the only identically signed and dated whippets by the Bell family known. The Museum acquired the figures at auction on July 20.
A member of the Bell family—one of the most well-known groups of early Valley potters—Samuel Bell was thirteen years old when he moved to Winchester with his family. His father, potter Peter Bell Jr., began producing pottery in Hagerstown, Maryland, and then moved to Winchester in 1824 with his sons John, Samuel, and Solomon Bell. John Bell was already working as a potter then, and his brothers soon followed suit. Though few examples have survived, the Bell whippet was a popular decorative form made by several members of the Bell family during the nineteenth century. The newly acquired figures are two of a small number of whippets known to have been produced by Samuel Bell while he was working at his father’s Winchester shop. In addition to being hand-signed, the whippets are impressed with the mark "S. BELL." This rare variation of the Samuel Bell maker's mark is believed to be the potter's earliest stamp, used only on redware pieces produced in Winchester. In 1843 Samuel Bell moved to Strasburg, Virginia, and established a prolific shop that would operate for the next 70 years.
According to MSV Executive Director, the Museum is pleased to have added these rare and iconic examples of Bell pottery to its collection. Prior to their acquisition by the MSV, the whippets were in a private collection and not accessible to the public. Now, their display in the MSV will help to tell the Bell family’s story and illustrate the art and material culture of the Shenandoah Valley, Director Evans adds.
The whippets will go on display in the MSV in the weeks ahead. When on view, the figures will join the Museum’s growing collection of Bell pottery in the Museum’s Shenandoah Valley Gallery. This display includes a miniature pitcher and a greyhound figurine made by Samuel Bell while the potter worked in Winchester. MSV benefactor Julian Wood Glass Jr. (1910–1992) acquired this whippet figure in 1967. Unlike the newly acquired pair of whippets, the paint that originally decorated the figurine purchased by Glass was removed. The MSV display features 11 additional items produced by Bell potters and includes works by Solomon, John, and Peter Bell.
The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley is located at 901 Amherst Street in Winchester, Virginia. The MSV complex—which includes the Museum, the Glen Burnie House, and six acres of gardens—is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The Museum is open year-round; the gardens will be open through October 31 in 2013. Admission to the Museum is $10 for adults and $8 for seniors and youth (age 13 to 18). Admission is always free to ages 12 and under and is free to all every Wednesday from 10 a.m. until noon. The house is now closed until 2014 for a comprehensive preservation project. Additional information is available at www.theMSV.org or by calling 540-662-1473, ext. 235.
Julie B. Armel
540-662-1473, ext. 225