Birch Bark “Bar.B.Q” dishes


Collection of Bob Burgess

“I had pushed for what was going to be a barbecue deal. We created a birch bark set – all patterned in birch bark with a cup like a chopped log and a twig of a branch for a handle. I had a chance to put that with Dairy Queens all across the United States. The fire smashed it all. It was a heart breaker.”
– Malcolm McArthur, New Medalta Ceramics*

According to owner/manager Malcolm McArthur, New Medalta Ceramics was on the verge of real profitability when a fire on Christmas Eve day 1958, left much of the factory in ruins. The fire marked the end for New Medalta and presumably for the deal with Dairy Queen, but not for McArthur. By 1960 he convinced the Thrall family from Lethbridge Alberta to launch Sunburst Ceramics under his management.

Which brings us to the dishes shown here. Unfortunately there is no mug with a twig handle, but the glaze certainly appears to mimic birch bark and the plate with its hand-painted details, looks as though it has been sliced from a large log. I haven’t been able to find any specific mention of these pieces from Sunburst, but I can’t help thinking that just maybe they were an attempt to revive the earlier design and perhaps even the deal with Dairy Queen. Sunburst moved to Lethbridge, AB. in 1966 (these are clearly marked Medicine Hat) and this line doesn’t appear in the catalogues from ’64 – ’66, so they likely date from between 1960 and 1963. However, if my (totally unsubstantiated) theory is correct, these may be some of the first things produced by Sunburst before McArthur left the company only a few months later.

*Quoted in Marylu Antonelli and Jack Forbes, Pottery in Alberta: The Long Tradition (Edmonton: The UofA Press, 1978), 155.

Anne Hayward, The Alberta Pottery Industry, 1912-1990: A Social and Economic History. Hull: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2001.

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