By Patricia Villemain Known during my pottery days as Patsy Morriss of Helme Hill, Washingtonville, N.Y. (The hill had no name so my mother called it Helme Hill after the former family that owned the whole hill)
Bob and Bill Bacher were brothers who owned and operated the White Cloud Pottery. It was outside of Rock Tavern, N.Y.. The place was not very large and originally had been a two story chicken house. It was a nondescript building. I can’t pull up a memory beyond the fact that it was long and thin, built as a two story chicken house. It was wood with perhaps some brick. The two vats for slips were on the ground floor by the front door. I think the kiln was on the second floor with only cold water taps. There were two rooms upstairs. One was hardly used and was where the plaster casts were made and kept. Sometimes workers would sit at a table there and trim the bottoms of each piece so the glaze would not drip down when the piece was fired. The building sat in the middle of an apple orchard. It was all very basic and crude, alongside the road. There an outdoor path leading to a small outhouse. It faced the sun. It was pleasant to sit there. If footsteps approached the door would slam.
I don’t know where we parked, but it was outside. There was no garage.
Mrs. Bacher senior lived nearby in a trim Victorian. If calamity struck and something had to be fixed we would all go to Mrs. Bacher Senior and sit in her living room where there were lots of wonderful books. This only happened once when I was there. It was probably caused by a frozen pipe as I remember it was winter.
Bill and his wife (I believe) had a one room apartment over a garage. It was bleak but they seemed happy.
The large apple orchard was run by the third brother named, Eugene. I may have met him once and believe he was divorced. The family was pleased with him and gave his former wife a small cottage near the senior Mrs. Bacher. She had a daughter. A very attractive girl who was about my age.
Bob and his wife had a small, one story cottage.
The brothers used to spray the apple orchard. In those days no one used face masks and just breathed the pollutants in. My father did the same in our orchard outside of Washingtonville.
I worked there for a number of months from the Fall of 1943 until the Spring of 1944. I left because of the heat from the building plus the furnace used for firing the pottery and glaze was too great. I had weighed 115lbs but went down to 104 before I left.
My mother found out about the pottery through friends. Time felt heavy on my hands as the hill was lonely with almost no one there my age so my mother had been looking for something to do besides read and ride my Welsh pony. Also, she felt I had no sense of money. I was paid $20 a week and gave my mother $5.00 a week for room and board.
I drove there in a Tin Lizzie, lent me by my boyfriend at the time, Jack Taft. He put in a round clutch handle colored with white and bright orange swirls in a ball shape. I’d listen to Arthur Godfrey who was on the radio. He used to urge his customers to smoke a carton of cigarettes a week. He did this until he came down with cancer of the throat.
By the front door on the ground floor stood two vats filled with slip (clay in a liquid state.) There was a paddle to constantly stir the clay and prevent it from solidifying.
I did a little bit of almost everything except designing. Mostly, I sprayed the glaze.
Bob was the chemist and Bill was the artist. Bill had been to Paris and looked the part as he looked and moved like an artist. He was a true painter but I never did see his work. He also, of course, designed the ware they made. As I recall, he was constantly smoking.
They made casts of plaster for the molds. The design were first made in plastecene clay. The slip was poured into the plaster casts and allowed to dry and harden. Eventually they were removed from the casts, painted if necessary by hand, and coated with a glaze by using a spray gun. Bill used to do this stage by placing the clay shapes on a large rectangular form about the size of a large cookie pan, place it on a regular sitting stool and lean over to spray it, using no mask or baffle. He would sometimes be bent over in a back breaking position.
I got the idea of having a booth for the spraying and got a friend of the family, Tom Taft from Cornwall on the Hudson who had a woodworking factory on the Hudson. One of his workers produced it for me. I also asked him to have a Lazy Susan made that could be used as a pedestal for he glaze when it was sprayed on.
Both brothers were wonderful joke tellers and conversationalists and I loved working there. I stayed all one winter. At one point a lady called Edna Tuthill, I think, joined me. She was a retired school teacher. She was a pleasure to be with and liked her a lot, but she left in order to care for her elderly mother.
The staff was really small: Bob, Bill, one or two workers like me and Ruth Tuthill, even my mother for a while, but she was quite slow with the work and soon stopped. I suspect she stayed to be sure the atmosphere was comfortable and pleasant.
Working with clay dried out my hands. My grandmother told me to mix rosewater with mutton grease, apply it and keep gloves on my hands at night. I tried this. It made me smell of lamb grease and was nauseating. Also, I didn’t think it helped, so I just had dry hands.
My father, Arthur Dudley Morriss (known as A.D.), was a devoted pipe smoker. He always said there were never ash trays big enough. I wanted to make him one for Christmas. I designed one, but since they charged according to the space needed in the kiln, I was horrified at the cost so kept shaving mine down. They were very amused by my final version. It was not really big. I also designed smaller ones that were made like 3 pointed orange sections. These were for individual cigarette smokers and were mostly for my cousin, Frances Wallace of Goshen, NY. I designed one for myself in the form of a pansy. I still have one of these. I also have a small porcelain turtle that was produced in mass. All the ware was porcelain. The brothers were very proud of this.
I did the designing at home of course. I never made any designs for them. I had to pay them to fire my designs, which I appreciated.
Ira was an irascible Republican who looked like a true Vermonter. He had no use for liberals, democrats, or deep thinking. His car clattered and it smoked dreadful fumes. His car ran on kerosene as some did during the war. He did odd jobs to cope with leaks, plumbing, roof and whatever.
Bob and Bill often told new employees that they were looking for someone to join them on an equal basis as a partner. Perhaps they were looking for extra funding? However, I never felt their hearts were in it. I doubt either one was enthused about sharing their “power.”
They were on a constant lookout for someone to add to their regular staff. Once they took on a mother and teenage son who were basically peasants. That is, they were not very bright. They were also not clean. When they sat on a wooden chair or stool, it smelled when they left. I asked Bob to speak to them which he did and after that they evidently wiped themselves after going to the bathroom and must have also taken baths at home. In those days, not everyone had showers.
The Japanese copied some of their most popular ware. In those days the Japanese had a reputation for copying. They even included any flaws.
Customers seldom dropped by. I suppose they had orders to fill. If I ever knew about this end of things, I’ve forgotten.
One of their most popular shapes were called “upside down cups.” I still have some Upside Down cups from the White Cloud Pottery. My father liked to tease and enjoyed asking which wife posed for them.
Once I left to marry and go to Pratt, I lost touch and do not know their history after the spring of 1944 when I got married and lived in Brooklyn. I probably did hear things but have forgotten. Rock Tavern was quite a distance from where I lived in Washingtonville, N.Y. Also they and my parent were acquaintances, not friends. They were liberal thinkers, my parents were highly conservative Republicans.
As you can probably tell, I have the warmest memories of the pottery and the two brothers.
I worked there during WWII and because there was fuel rationing I kept my tank low. As a result, I frequently ran out of gas and had to call my father to be rescued. He pointed out rather forcibly, that I was causing him to use gas and that I was ending up having more used than necessary.
I went back once with my two children at the time, Aylette and Cecily, when there were about 4 and 6 to introduce them. That would be around the mid to late 50’s. No one was home. However there was a young man who lived in the former pottery. I left verbal message with him but never heard back.
Heartfelt thanks for this wonderful story to Patricia Villemain 90 years old on March 23 , 2013 and daughter Marissa Essad.
ABOVE: AUTHOR PATSY MORRIS ca. 1942
The Author, July 2014, 91 years Young
Patricia Villemain March 23, 1923 - December 25, 2014