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Sale of Scipio Creek Pottery will benefit HAC special fund



This line of bells shows the evolution of the popular Hanna-Bell, from a stern Aunt Polly version to the final simplified version that was easier to reproduce. Family photo


MARY LOU MONTGOMERY


The ceramic works of Jean Griffen Vincent, of Scipio Creek Pottery, will be the focus of a special event from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, March 1, at the Hannibal Arts Council, 105 S. Main St.


The event is a preview of a Studio Sale, which will take place March 2-16 at the HAC.


Vincent, who along with her daughter, Christine, founded Scipio Creek Pottery in 1974, has donated their remaining inventory to the HAC. Proceeds will be used to establish a dedicated fund to recognize, encourage and support the work of the greater Hannibal area’s art teachers.


The artist

Jean Vincent, daughter of Merritt and Mildred Petrie Griffen, spent a portion of her youth living in an apartment above her family’s flower shop at 300 Broadway. After graduating from Hannibal High School, she studied art at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., originally focusing on painting.


During the last semester of her senior year, one of her teachers introduced “packaged clay and a little electric kiln.


“Nobody knew anything about pottery, clay, but I seemed to latch onto it as a great idea and a lot of fun,” she said.


“I started experimenting, making little coasters, flat things; we didn’t have a potter’s wheel. I found something very satisfying about working with clay, I was taken with it immediately.”


After she graduated from the all-girls, Methodist college with a degree in fine arts, she and her parents, Merritt and Mildred Griffen of Hannibal, “looked around for what I should do next,” Vincent said. “Fortunately I found a good school in New York state where I attended for two years and got a master’s in art, ceramics speciality.”


The school was the Ceramic Arts graduate program at Alfred University in New York, recognized as the nation’s preeminent graduate program in ceramic arts.  She graduated with a master’s degree in 1951.

The school had a contact with Stangl Pottery. “My school supplied students for work at that company, I got to do that. (My career) took off from there.”


At Stangl, she supervised quality control for decorating dinnerware pieces  in Trenton, N.Y.


That’s where she met George Lester Vincent, who would become her husband and life partner.


“George was a ceramic engineer,” Jean said. “When he learned of a company that needed short-term help to solve certain problems, he would take  care of that, as a consultant.


“Then the place where I worked had some kind of problem with glazes. He came to the pottery shop and we made contact there.”


They married in July 1952 at the First Methodist Church in Hannibal.


Later that year, George’s work took them to Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar) on behalf of the United Nations. He helped the Burmese people develop their country’s ceramics industry.


Moving back to the United States, they settled at Richton Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, where George went to work for a trade magazine, and Jean began a two-decade long teaching career.


While the Vincents were in Burma, Jean’s parents purchased an historic house at Scipio, overlooking the Mississippi River, north of Hannibal.


During her teaching years in the Chicago suburb, she and her daughters “always came to Hannibal for the summers, that’s where my parents were.”


Her father died in 1968, and her mother in 1979.


Studio

In 1974, Jean and daughter Christine opened a family-run pottery studio at Port Scipio. Jean’s daughter, Laurie Vincent, offers the details:


“Christine and a fellow art student, Reneé Carswell, constructed the kiln during their summer break between college semesters.

“They worked with a local machine shop to build a two-burner propane firing system to their specifications. ‘They thought we were crazy,’ Christine said. 

“For the kiln, George Vincent donated leftover kiln shelving and posts from his clients. Then Christine and Reneé built an arched plywood superstructure. Into its walls they poured clay, cement and crushed ceramic firebrick. 

“At last, the plan worked. ‘The first time we fired the kiln, its walls set up stone solid,’ Christine said.”

“They found a source for dry-bagged clay in Wellsville, Mo., and made up the clay and glazes by hand. Later, they purchased a pugmill machine — a sort of miniature cement mixer — to create higher-performing clay.”

In a feature story written by Mary Lou Montgomery for the Hannibal Courier-Post in 1985, Jean Vincent described the process of salt glazing, a favorite technique used by Jean.

“It is a very old method of pottery used in 13th Century Germany,” she said. “It involves putting salt in the kiln. At the highest temperatures, the salt vaporizes and becomes sodium. It combines with silica in the clay and creates a glassy surface.”

Popular ceramic pieces designed and created by Scipio Creek Pottery include: Pitchers, cups, mugs, bowls, platters and tea pots. In addition, Jean made “Hanna Belle” dolls. “The bell was originally designed by my daughter, Laurie, who called it Aunt Polly,” Jean said.  “I kept fooling around with the idea and it evolved into the idea of ‘Hanna Belle.’ ”

One of the dolls was presented to Rosalynn Carter when she visited Hannibal in 1979.

Flood of 1993

The business was forced to close in 1993, during the noted flood of that year.

Those familiar with the Scipio house know that it is located close to the Mississippi River, just across a road and the railroad tracks.

"We have a creek - Scipio Creek - that drains down from Fette’s Orchard; the creek empties into the river right on our property.” In 1993, “It backed up, until we were almost trapped here, because the road beyond us was covered with water, and road south of us covered with water.  We were like an island. Cathy and Jim Smith live next door to us, and for all of us to get to town we to climb up this little back road into Riverview Park. You had to walk up to a place where cars were parked.”


During this flooding, the kiln was ruined by the water.


“We decided the flood damage was a sign that it was time to close down the pottery business,” Jean said.


“However fate brought us to this location, I’ve been very happy, we love being here, it is the nicest place we can be,” Jean said.


“We love looking at the river, and despite every once in awhile having a problem with it. We really appreciate our location.”


Studio sale

The public is invited to attend the March 1 special event.


HAC members will be admitted free, and non-members can attend for $10 each/$15 per couple. Tickets will be sold at the door. Proceeds from the preview event will also be added to the dedicated fund. The sale will then be open during regular gallery hours through March 16.


For information, call the HAC at (573) 221-6545.




Jean Vincent is pictured with her cousin, Dan Griffen, in 2017 at a Hannibal Arts Council event. Dan died in 2021. Photo by Mary Lou Montgomery



Jean Vincent firing the salt-glaze kiln behind her pottery studio at Scipio Creek. Family photo




Mugs, donated to Hannibal Arts Council by Jean Vincent of Scipio Creek Pottery, will be sold during a Studio Sale March 2-16. HAC photo




Jean Vincent molds a ball of clay in preparation for making a piece of pottery. Family photo



Scipio Creek Pottery’s famed “Hanna Belle” piece. HAC PHOTO




Mary Lou Montgomery retired in 2014 after 39 years with the Hannibal Courier-Post.

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