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Visitor adds to local pottery history

May 3, 2008
While there is a wealth of information available about the history of the area’s pottery industry, some of that history remains a mystery that can only be solved by the people who lived through it.

One such man paid a visit to East Liverpool Friday and spoke of his experiences at the Bel-Mar Pottery, a subject about which little information has been known.

Max T. Miller, 91, of New Philadelphia, came to the Museum of Ceramics and spoke to historic site manager Sarah Vodrey about his work with “clinkers” and packing barrels.

Miller said that after graduating high school, he began working at Bel-Mar, where it was his job to break up clinkers, left-over pieces of hard coal, with a poker and shovel them into a steel wheelbarrow.

“They had the nerve to put me, an educated man, on this job,” Miller laughed. Miller said he only weighed about 135 pounds and the wheelbarrow with the clinkers weighed more than him. “It was a nasty job,” he said.

Miller told Vodrey that his father, Harry Miller, had managed a McNicol pottery. The Seibold family approached Harry Miller with an offer of financial backing, and the Bel-Mar Pottery was opened in 1931 or 1932. The Seibold brothers had a reversal of fortunes in other business ventures about a year later, forcing the closure of Bel-Mar.

“Here’s a man who actually knows something about a business we don’t know about....We have almost nothing,” said Vodrey, adding that when Miller walked in, she thought, “Here’s living history right here.”

Miller said that after less than a week of shoveling clinkers, “I asked my father to please have mercy on me.” Miller then went to the shipping department, where he packed pottery into 17 or 19-inch barrels, as cartons were too expensive at the time.

Miller said his mother was an artist who would give classes, the students from which would paint sets. A small china and glass was started in the Miller household, which developed into the Miller Studio, becoming one of the nation’s largest retail sellers of many brands of dinnerware, at one time carrying more than 70 open-stock patterns.

Miller has written a book about his family’s experiences, called “The Miller Studio Story,” and he is currently writing a book centered on Pretty Boy Floyd, whose body Miller saw during his time at Bel-Mar.

“I was one of the 5,000 people who got in line to quietly walk past the body,” Miller said. “I’ll never forget it if I live to be a million...When a 17 year-old faces a body like Pretty Boy Floyd in a funeral home...and the bullets are all in his back, it’s not something you forget.”

Miller said the Sturgis House had beautiful landscaping, adding, “The crowd just ruined. I was one of them.”

Miller said his visit was the first time he had been back to East Liverpool in many years and that he “looked forward to this trip for a long time.”

In addition to going to the Sturgis House, the building where Pretty Boy Floyd’s body was displayed, Miller took a tour of the Museum of Ceramics. “This is fabulous. This is worth anybody’s time,” he said, adding that did not find any pieces of Bel-Mar pottery and that he may send some to contribute to the museum’s collection.

Article Photos

Museum of Ceramics historic site manager Sarah Vodrey presents Max Miller with a Potter Privilege Coin as a souvenir of his visit to East Liverpool. (Photo by Emily Scott)



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