Double-Headed Eagle

Mysteries in Clay: Pisgah Forest Masonic Pottery

New to the museum’s collection this spring are three pieces of North Carolina pottery bearing Masonic decoration. These items – a small bowl, a vase, and a cup or pencil holder – were created by Pisgah Forest Pottery in western North Carolina in the 1940s and 1950s. They join two previously-purchased bowls in the collection that match the new bowl nearly exactly. Our now-five-piece collection of Pisgah Forest Pottery inspires some interesting questions about their purpose, use, and Masonic connection.

Pisgah pottery - 2022.023.1-3 - small
Pisgah Forest Masonic vase (1959), cup (circa 1948), bowl (1942). Pisgah Forest Pottery, Arden, North Carolina. 2022.023.1-3.

Pisgah Forest Pottery was founded in 1926 by Walter Benjamin Stephen (1876-1961) in rural western North Carolina, near the Blue Ridge Parkway. He was a member, trustee, and Past Master (1945) of West Asheville Lodge No. 665, which merged with another Asheville Lodge in 2002. After Stephen’s death at the age of 85 in 1961, his step-grandson Thomas Case kept Pisgah Forest Pottery going with the help of another employee, Grady Ledbetter. Case died in 2014, and is buried in the same location as his grandfather, New Salem Baptist Church Cemetery. Nichols-West Asheville Lodge No. 650 performed the funeral ritual for Case.

Pisgah Forest Pottery officially closed in 2014, following Case’s death. Its historic pottery-making tools and equipment were donated to the North Carolina Museum of History. Examples of work from this important pottery are held and exhibited at other museums, such as the Smithsonian, the Asheville Art Museum, and the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum. Popular with collectors, pieces of Pisgah Forest Pottery frequently come up for auction.

All three of the Scottish Rite Museum’s bowls are cobalt blue with a pink glaze inside. The bottom of each bowl bears the company’s mark (a potter sitting at a wheel) and the words "Pisgah Forest / 1942”. They have a raised, unglazed emblem on the exterior which bears a double-headed eagle gripping a sword in its talons with a square and compass on its breast and a "32" glazed in blue above. On the two pieces purchased in 2019, the raised text "Asheville" appears below the emblem. However, on the piece purchased in 2022, the text reads: “Asheville Scottish Rite”. Given that all three bowls bear the same year and were clearly following a set design, it is interesting that our newest acquisition also has the words “Scottish Rite” added to it. For whom were these Scottish Rite Masonic bowls made? Much of Stephen’s usual work was sold to tourists in the region. Were these items produced as custom orders for the local Scottish Rite Valley? Were they given as gifts to Masons? More research is needed in order to determine the context and purpose of these bowls.

The inscriptions on the newly-acquired vase and cup give us a little more information about who likely owned and use them. The light blue vase has the words “To my Good Friend and Brother Dr. S. S. Fay 33° / Stephen - 1959" painted neatly in white glaze, along with a white cross with two bars and a double-headed eagle bearing a “33” on the neck of the vase. Walter Stephen was semi-retired from the pottery by about 1949, but he still created new pieces on his own in a small studio he built on his property that he called “Lone Pine Studio”. The vase inscription and date seem to indicate that he made this vase as a gift for a friend who was a 33° Mason. With help from the Grand Lodge of North Carolina, we’ve identified “S. S. Fay” as Scott Stuart Fay, who was a member and Past Master of John A. Nichols Lodge No. 650, the lodge that later merged with Stephen’s West Asheville No. 665 in 2002. Fay was a West Asheville doctor who was born in 1882 and died in 1980.

The cup has a light blue glaze that matches the vase and is personalized with a white clay emblem on the exterior which bears a keystone and the words "C. C. Ricker / G. H. P. / 1947-48". The “G. H .P.” here helped identify the owner. These letters stand for “Grand High Priest” and paired with the keystone on the cup, suggests that “C. C. Ricker” was elected a Grand High Priest of the Grand Chapter of North Carolina in 1947. With this information, the Grand Lodge of North Carolina helped us confirm the likely recipient of the cup as Charles Carpenter Ricker. Ricker, an active Mason, served as Grand High Priest, Grand Master (1962), and Grand Commander of North Carolina.

As many members know, one of the benefits of Freemasonry is the chance to convene and form friendships with fellow Masons. We don’t know if Walter Stephen met Scott Fay and Charles Ricker through business dealings in Asheville or if they met as brethren, but these personalized pots underscore their Masonic connection.

Reference and Further Reading:

Our thanks to Eric Greene at the Grand Lodge of North Carolina for his research assistance on this post.

Happy 201st Birthday to the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction!

2013_030DI1Today, August 5, 2014, marks the 201st anniversary of the founding of the Scottish Rite’s Northern Masonic Jurisdiction (which founded the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in 1975). A year ago today, we celebrated the momentous occasion of the fraternity’s 200th anniversary – see our posts from last year - here and here. This year, the day is passing more quietly. However, our exhibition, “A Sublime Brotherhood: 200 Years of Scottish Rite Freemasonry in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction,” which opened last year, is still on view – for a few more weeks. The exhibition will close on September 27, 2014, so if you haven’t visited, it’s time to plan a trip to the museum. We have one more gallery talk planned in the exhibit. The Museum’s Director of Collections and curator of the exhibition, Aimee E. Newell, will offer a free gallery talk on Saturday, September 27, at 2 p.m.

During the official anniversary ceremony last August, in New York City, Sovereign Grand Commander John William McNaughton welcomed his counterpart from the Southern Jurisdiction, Sovereign Grand Commander Ronald Seale. At the festivities, Commander Seale presented Commander McNaughton with a reproduction of the 1813 charter that officially created the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. Commander Seale also presented a commemorative glass vase to celebrate the occasion (see above). The vase is currently on view in our lobby as part of our display of recent acquisitions. Engraved on the front is the double-headed eagle emblem of the Scottish Rite with an inscription, “Presented to the Supreme Council, 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, USA, in honor of its Bicentennial Anniversary 1813-2013 by the Supreme Council, 33°, Southern Jurisdiction, USA.”

To order a copy of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's recent published history, which the exhibition is based on, visit the NMJ online store.

Vase, 2013, United States, gift of the Supreme Council, 33°, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, USA, 2013.030. Photograph by David Bohl.

Counting Down to 2013

Lectern Front2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of the parent organization for the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library.  In 1813, the Scottish Rite Supreme Council for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, USA, was formed.  Over the coming months, you will read more about this anniversary and the history of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction on our blog.  We will also open an exhibition about the NMJ next spring (check our website for details as Spring 2013 approaches!).

The Museum & Library actively collects objects and documents from the Scottish Rite.  Many of the objects already in our collection are gifts from a Scottish Rite member or local group to the governing body, the Supreme Council, which is located in Lexington, Massachusetts, on the same campus as the Museum.

One of the most eyecatching gifts now in the collection is a lectern that was presented to the Supreme Council in 1931 by the DeWitt Clinton Consistory of the Valley of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Constructed from several different woods, and inlaid with miniature Masonic symbols, the lectern shows an Egyptian Revival style and sports a book holder at top supported by the Scottish Rite's double-headed eagle symbol.  A silver plaque on the lectern credits the design of the piece to Edgar A. Somes, the inlay to T.A. Conti, and the fabrication to Century Furniture Company and Associates.  Grand Rapids, Michigan, was a center of American furnituremaking during the late 1800s and early 1900s; the pride that makers took in their craft is evident from this lectern.Lectern plaque

The lectern was presented to Commander Leon M. Abbott at the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's 1931 annual meeting in Detroit, Michigan.  At the meeting, a representative from Michigan explained that the Egyptian style was chosen because of its connection to Masonic rituals and symbols.

Scottish Rite Lectern, 1931, Century Furniture Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Gift of the Supreme Council, 33o, Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, USA, 2010.042.31.  Photographs by David Bohl.

Wings Up or Wings Down?: Using Books to Find An Answer

[Note: this article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of The Northern Light, the membership magazine for the Scottish Rite's Northern Masonic Jurisdiction.]

Maybe you've just joined the Scottish Rite, or maybe you’ve been a Scottish Rite member for years and have been elected to receive the 33°. You or a family member enthusiastically set out to buy something to commemorate the occasion. Right away, you notice that many of the double-headed eagles are available in either the "wings up" or the "wings down" position. You wonder, "what’s the difference?"  Asking your Scottish Rite brothers, you receive answers that are all slightly different and sometimes contradictory.

Baynard_Double_Headed_Eagle_detail_web Where can you find a definitive answer?
Call me biased, but I’d say one of your best bets (short of reading this article) is to contact the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives at the National Heritage Museum. I’ve had members contact me with this question and here’s how I was able to deliver a definitive answer.

First, I looked at two popular books on Freemasonry. Christopher Hodapp’s Freemasons for Dummies and S. Brent Morris’s The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freemasonry both address this question. They draw the same conclusion: in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, the wings-up version of the double-headed eagle is reserved for Active and Active Emeritus members. (No importance is attached to wing position in the Southern Jurisdiction.)

That’s a good start, but I wanted an authoritative source, so I looked at the Supreme Council 33°, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction’s own Constitutions. In the 2009 edition of the Constitutions, articles 1216 through 1219 address the design of caps (optional in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, but still sometimes worn) and lapel buttons.

Orient_of_Philadelphia_Double_Headed_Eagle_detail_web In the description of 33° Active and Active Emeritus caps (art. 1219.1) and lapel buttons (art. 1216), the double-headed eagle is described as "a double-headed eagle, wings extended and pointing up." For the cap (art. 1219.2) and label button (art. 1217) of a 33° Honorary Member, the eagle is described as a "double-headed eagle, wings extended and pointing down," and for 32° lapel buttons (art. 1218.1) the eagle is described as a "double-headed eagle of gold, wings extended and pointing down."

It looks like the Supreme Council’s Constitutions first addressed wing position in 1934, with the description of lapel buttons, which had been formally introduced in 1927. The Constitutions did not describe caps until the 1955 revision and the position of the double-headed eagle’s wings on caps was not addressed until the 1960s.

Double-headed eagles only appear on 32° rings and are described in article 1209 of the Constitutions: "A Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret is authorized to wear a ring, the basic design of which shall be the double-headed eagle." We can infer that the wings should be pointed down.

Looking at the published Proceedings of the Supreme Council, I found that the wings-up versus wings-down question is not new. In a report on the double-headed eagle delivered by the Committee on Ritual and Ritualistic Matter at the 1885 Annual Meeting of the Supreme Council, they concluded "The rising eagle [i.e. wings up] is not improperly represented, and to those who prefer the ascending position there is, and can be, no objection." This indicates that the question was being asked 125 years ago, although the answer back then was different.

While I have focused on the personal use of double-headed eagles in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, it’s also worth noting that some Supreme Councils in the world use a wings-up double-headed eagle as the emblem of their Council. Both Supreme Councils in the United States use a wings-down version.

In conclusion, unless you are one of the approximately fifty 33° Active Members or an Active Emeritus Member of the Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, the answer to the question "wings up or wings down?" is this: wings down.


Detail from cover of Samuel H. Baynard’s History of the Supreme Council, 33°…Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, 1938. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 17.9735 .B361 1938.

Detail from cover of By-laws of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Orient of Philadelphia, Valley of Pennsylvania, 1878. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 17.9735 .Un58 1878.