A few months ago, I won an Everything But the House auction for an amazing set of vintage Louisville Stoneware luncheon dishes and bowls. Now, I've been collecting Stoneware for as long as I can remember, but this is one of the most unique designs I've ever seen. According to the mark on the bottom of the pottery, it was made for Pleasant Hill. Of course, I knew that Pleasant Hill is the home of Shaker Village -- I certainly took in more than a few grade school field trips there -- but I wanted to learn a little more about the pottery and the Shaker Tree of Life logo.
The familiar Tree of Life on the front of the dishes was, of course, a variant of the orange-and-green logo that's represented Kentucky's Shaker Village since the property opened to the public as an inn and restaurant in 1968. A little more research told met that the stylized Tree of Life logo dates back to an 1854 painting by Shaker folk artist Hannah Cohoon. Mrs. Cohoon, perhaps the most famous painter of the short-lived Shaker religious and folk art movement, painted many variants of the Tree of Life theme. (For a fascinating take on Shaker iconography and art, read this New Yorker article.)
My research into this awesome pottery pattern got even more interesting when I posted photos of a piece to Instagram, and got some comments from an IG follower who works at Stoneware. She showed photos of the pattern and the branding marks to a longtime Stoneware painter, who dated these pieces to the late 1980s or early 1990s. How fun that social media, online auctions, and a little research could piece together the story of these fun dishes!