John, Solomon, and Samuel Bell were potters who had all apprenticed with their father, Peter, and they subsequently trained their own sons. The associated Bell potteries were established in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Because the family members shared workers, materials, and forms, it is often difficult to ascribe a particular piece to one or another of their operations unless it survived with a documented history. This is one of four lions that were made as gifts for family members. Based on family tradition, it was most probably made by John Bell and gifted to his niece in Winchester, Virginia. The recipient remembered dropping a pencil in an ear cavity as a child, resulting in the rattle audible when the figure is gently shaken. This cavity was probably intended to allow steam to vent during the firing, so that the earthenware body would not crack.
The lion does not present a very fierce aspect, and is rather more like a dog with a curled tail than a wild animal. His mouth is opened wide in a grin filled with incised teeth. The body is smooth and covered with yellow clay slip, while the mane is created in a “coleslaw” technique in which clay is forced through some sort of screen to make spaghetti-like strands. The mane and other areas of “fur” were painted with manganese dioxide slip and the eyes were daubed with copper oxide to produce the brown and green colors.
Stacy C. Hollander, “Lion,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.