When Heber C. Kimball's son Solomon donated a small brown jug to the Deseret Museum in about 1870, he said it was the only known pottery still in existence made by the Church leader.
Now, two additional pieces said to be from Heber C. Kimball's potter's wheel in the early 1830s, are preserved at the Museum of Church History and Art, just west of Temple Square.
Two large glazed crocks, decorated with a mottled yellow-brown finish, were acquired in 1984 from Sheldon Fisher's private Valentown Museum in upstate New York.
Fisher was given the large crocks by Belle G. Kyle. She said her grandfather purchased them from the young Heber, who was working as a blacksmith and potter at his farm on the road between the villages of Mendon and Victor.
One of the crocks and the jug are currently displayed with other rare historical objects belonging to early converts to the Church. The pottery, a wood-turning lathe used by Brigham Young, and other items are part of a permanent Church history exhibit, "A Covenant Restored," opening formally to the public on May 19.
Heber Kimball moved to the Mendon area in 1820 to learn pottery from his older brother Charles. Heber had already apprenticed as a blacksmith with his father.
Soon after his November 1822 marriage to Vilate Murray, Heber bought out his brother's pottery and went into business for himself.
As a potter, he sought out quality clay with high silica content, according to Stanley B. Kimball, who wrote a biography of the Church leader. The author said the energetic Heber could turn out 20 dozen milk pans on a hard day at the potter's wheel.
"Apparently he specialized in common brownware made from fine-textured clay burned to a very high degree and covered by a hard brown glaze," Stan Kimball wrote. "It was used mainly for simple kitchen and table items _ jars, crocks, pitchers, bottles, mugs, pots, milk pans, cups, churns and plates."
The pieces in the museum collection fit this description.
Though Heber Kimball gave up his potter's wheel to serve the Lord as an apostle, he did not forget the experience of molding clay into useful products. In later sermons, Elder Kimball compared the shaping of his own life by the Lord to the molding of malleable clay by his own hands.
In a variety of life's experiences, he explained to audiences, he was shaped on the potter's wheel.
Though Elder Kimball gave up the trade, as a missionary in England he unwittingly helped ensure that other potters would fill the need for earthenware vessels in Nauvoo and pioneer Utah.
Some of the finest pottery produced in Nauvoo was made by English workers from the Staffordshire potteries, where Elder Kimball and other missionaries had converted them. In early Utah, 33 potters were either British or Danish, and only 13 from the United States, according to Kirk Henrichsen, a potter and museum exhibit designer.
The Danish potters, who worked in small-scale hand production, were better suited to Utah's economy than the English factory porcelain makers, he noted. Utah's largest pioneer pottery, founded by Danish immigrant Erick C. Henrichsen, survived until 1927.
The products of these early craftsmen are now treasured by collectors, who seek items linked with specific potters, styles or periods.