For the love of yellow ware

January 07, 1999

Lisa McAllisterBy Kate Coleman / Staff Writer

photos: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

The seeds of Lisa S. McAllister's passion for antiques may have been planted when, as a child, she played at Snow Hill Cloister in Quincy, Pa., among pottery that later brought thousands of dollars at auction.

[cont. from lifestyle]

Today, McAllister is guest curator of the exhibit of yellow ware ceramics at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts and is regarded as an authority on the pottery, according to museum director Jean Woods. The 42-year-old resident of Clear Spring is author of two books - collector's guides to yellow ware.

The exhibit is on display through Sunday, April 18.

McAllister selected 180 pieces for the exhibit. Although yellow ware was primarily utilitarian, many forms and decorations are represented in the show. A dealer as well as a collector, McAllister called on clients from as far away as Texas, Arizona and Nebraska to lend the many different examples of yellow ware pieces for the exhibit.


McAllister attributes her success in antiques to a high IQ and curiosity. Experience also serves her well. She compares it to choosing a doctor: Book learning is required, but it's not enough. She also believes that her willingness to take risks has helped.

"You need to handle it," McAllister says of antique pottery.

Quintal vaseHer everyday dishes are from 1820. "If you get nervous about it, you're going to break it," Lisa McAllister says.

Lisa McAllister and her husband, Barry, collect different types of ceramics - red ware, stoneware and yellow ware - the type is defined by the color of the clay from which it's made. "Yellow ware is my favorite," McAllister says.

McAllister recalls her childhood sojourns to the Snow Hill Cloister, accompanying her grandparents to visit friends who were caretakers at the monastery. She played among the furniture, baskets and pottery, the same items that brought more than $800,000 in a 1997 auction of 600 items that had been stored there for more than 100 years.

The collection included 40 bowls believed to have been made by Waynesboro, Pa., potter John Bell, that brought in a total of $345,400. There is a John Bell yellow ware canning jar in the exhibit.

McAllister got into collecting and being a dealer at about the same time - in 1983. She and her husband travel to some of the country's better antique shows - including those in Indianapolis; Nashville, Tenn.; and Manchester, N.H. McAllister still gets calls from a mention in an article in Country Home magazine last spring

About five or six years ago, a magazine advertisement featuring McAllister's pottery collection caught the eye of Carol Bracken, a Fort Worth, Texas, attorney. Bracken wanted to replace a broken yellow ware bowl that her great-grandmother had owned. "All of our grandmothers had a kitchen full of this stuff," she says.

From that one bowl - a piece she wanted for sentimental reasons - Bracken has built a collection of about 30 pieces. She says she really doesn't want to know how much she has. "Yellow ware is as addictive as crack cocaine," she says.

Five of her pieces are in the Washington County exhibit, including a "stunning" bowl, on display at the center of the gallery. She first saw it last year while having dinner at the McAllisters' home. Of course, Lisa McAllister had the bowl out on purpose, Bracken says. "I love that piece."

McAllister also does business by e-mail. She photographs pieces with her digital camera and transmits images of the antique objects to customers in the United States and some across the Atlantic.

Susan Rogers of Tucson, Ariz., has made electronic purchases of yellow ware from McAllister, who she's known for four or five years. She also loaned a couple of pieces to the local exhibit. "I appreciate Lisa because she's honest. If she says it's something (a piece of yellow ware), it is."

The exhibit is a good opportunity for people in the region to see an excellent collection of different forms and decorations, Woods says.

Rogers agrees. "It's very unusual to get an opportunity to see that much yellow ware in one place," she says.

Her sister, a former antique dealer, traveled to Hagerstown from Silver Spring, Md., to see the exhibit. She was "blown away" by the show, Rogers says.

The McAllisters' business has a side benefit.

"All of her customers have a great fondness for Lisa McAllister. She's extremely good at what she does. She's not just a dealer, she's a good friend," Bracken says.

  • When: Through Sunday, April 18; hours are Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m. The opening reception will be Sunday, Jan. 17, from 2:30 to 4 p.m.
  • Where: Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, City Park, Hagerstown
  • Cost: Free
  • For information: Call 301-739-5727 or 301-739-5764, telecommunications device for the deaf or visit the Web site at

Page 2: 'It's hard to get bored'

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