© Memorial Hall Museum, Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association
Portrait of Chauncey Thomas entitled "Potter's Assistant," by Francis and Mary Allen, c. 1911.
The Gazette and Courier of Greenfield, Massachusetts first mentioned the arrival of the potter Chauncey Thomas to Deerfield in the fall of 1909. "The Deerfield Pottery," the paper promised, "bids fair to be an interesting asset to the village. Mr. Thomas, the proprietor, is a pleasing man with good common sense and master of his craft."1
Chauncey Thomas studied design and china painting at the Pratt Institute, located in Brooklyn, NY, where he learned from famed art educator Arthur Wesley Dow. In 1904, he began attending Alfred University's New York State School of Clay-Working and Ceramics (now the College of Ceramics) where he trained under, and lived with, the school's founder, Charles Fergus Binns. Binns is credited with having taught many American Arts and Crafts potters including the Marblehead Pottery's Arthur E. Baggs and Mary Chase Perry Stratton of Detroit's Pewabic Pottery. The decorative effect of Binn's pottery tended to rely upon beautifully-formed iconic vessel shapes covered with luscious glazes, rather than upon applied decoration. Similar stylistic features can be seen in the pottery of many of Binn's students, including that of Chauncey Thomas.
Prior to his arrival in western Massachusetts, Chauncey Thomas was a member of the American Ceramic Society. As a teacher, at both the University of Chicago's School of Education and the Teachers' College of Columbia University, he prepared his students to teach the art of pottery in city schools.
At the end of 1906 Chauncey Thomas wrote to teacher and mentor Charles Fergus Binns, "Do you remember my speaking to you about my starting a pottery at Old Deerfield? I am seriously considering the idea. What do you think of it? I would follow out Doat's plan [the French ceramist and author Taxile Doat] and make high temperature ware, use his style of kiln and do the work myself."2 In 1909, Chauncey rented the Dennis Stebbins house on the Street in Deerfield. It served as his residence, his sales shop, and the location at which he glazed his pottery. Behind the Stebbins house, the artist built a separate pottery with an "oil-fueled kiln."3 Despite this preparatory work and the active roles he played in the governance of the Society of Deerfield Industries Chauncey Thomas remained in Deerfield for only a short time. He closed his studio and shop in the fall of 1911, and moved to Berkeley, California where he set up his new pottery in 1913. Around 1919 he opened The Tile Shop in partnership with William Bragdon. A number of years later The Tile Shop was renamed California Faience.