Charles Decker Sr., master potter and proprietor of Keystone Pottery, was the largest producer of utilitarian and folk art ceramics in East Tennessee between 1873 and 1906. Decker was the binding influence behind a family business that produced items made by himself, his three sons, and twenty-five employees. Pottery-laden wagons regularly left Keystone Pottery in Washington County, for destinations in East Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, and Kentucky.
Born in Langenalb, Baden, Germany, in 1832, Decker immigrated to the United States as a teenager. He first worked for Richard C. Remmey, a Philadelphia stoneware manufacturer, before establishing Keystone Pottery in Philadelphia in 1857. Decker married three times. His first marriage produced two sons, Charles Frederick Jr., and William, but his wife, Catherine, died before the Civil War. Decker's second wife, Sophia Hinch, bore sons Fred and Richard Henry in the 1860s. A third marriage to Susan Elizabeth Broyles Gefellers produced no children.
Decker migrated southward around 1870, working initially at a pottery near Abingdon, Virginia, before moving to Tennessee. In 1872 he acquired one hundred acres of land rich in clay deposits in the Chucky Valley and reestablished Keystone Pottery. Decker and his sons produced the usual kitchenware, including crocks, jugs, and churns. They also made pitchers, flower pots, paving blocks, stoneware drainpipes, chicken fountains, chamber pots, and decorated inkwells. Distinctive tombstones and large yard ornaments of gray, salt-glazed pottery decorated with deep blue lettering and designs, as well as grotesque face vessels and sculptural pieces, established Charles F. Decker as a leading southern folk potter.