During the first half of the nineteenth century, the continuously expanding American frontier captured the popular imagination in the United States and abroad. German-American artist Karl Bodmer traveled through Pittsburgh at the time and preserved scenes of an ever-changing landscape, including this view of the Western State Penitentiary (constructed c. 1827), which was located along the north side of the Allegheny River across from Pittsburgh. Modeled as a Norman-style fortress and set against the rolling foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, the penitentiary was an imposing presence in bucolic Western Pennsylvania. Bodmers drawing was published as a print in Travels in the Interior of North America, 18321834 by Maximilian, Prince of Wied-Neuwied, resulting in dissemination of the image internationally.
Interested in capturing a share of the bustling market in American views, the noteworthy Staffordshire potters James and Ralph Clews reproduced such imagery of western American settlement on ceramic objects. The Clews brothers made engraved copper plates loosely based on drawings by Bodmer and others that they then transferred to objects like this platter through a multimedia printing process (see page 48).
Geographical accuracy seems to have been irrelevant to the Clews, as the penitentiary and other images of Pittsburgh were originally included in a series of objects decorated with scenes of New York and sold as Picturesque Views of the Hudson River. Despite the novelty of displaying such large platters on the wall like prints or paintings, the pieces were certainly used for dining, as indicated by the visible knife marks on this object.