Catawba Indian Pottery
The Survival of a Folk Tradition
Publication Year: 2004
Published by: The University of Alabama Press
Series: Contemporary American Indians
List of Figures
My grandmother was Georgia Harris, one of the greatest Catawba Indian potters. Before she died in 1996 at the age of 91, she asked her closest friend, Dr. Thomas Blumer, to deliver her eulogy. To those who didn’t know Dr. Blumer, it may have seemed strange that a white scholar from the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., eulogized...
This volume has been too long in the making. Aside from my own distractions coming from those wanting Catawba information from me, the task of examining issues connected to Catawba history and culture is enormous. The documentation is vast and scattered. The tradition is of great antiquity and certainly deserved the attention.
1. Discovering the Catawba
The Catawba Indian Nation of South Carolina occupies a 640-acre reservation eight miles east of Rock Hill, South Carolina. About 2,200 Indians are listed on the tribal roll (U.S. Department of the Interior 2000). Perhaps another 1,000 Catawba descendants are located outside of South Carolina in Oklahoma, Colorado, and other places.
2. A Family Economy Based on Pottery
With the coming of the white man the Catawba faced immediate economic disaster based
3. Peddling Pottery
The Catawba potters draw from a peddling tradition with deep roots and excel at using their forefathers’ bartering techniques when trading (Merrell 1989:31). The Catawba have probably always dealt in pottery. As mentioned, John Lawson noted their eighteenth-century trade in pipes. The Catawba claimed a trade network that covered the...
4. The Indian Circuit
The Catawba potters have long seen the wisdom of capitalizing on their Indianness. Young and old are well aware of their historical importance. When fairs and expositions became popular at the end of the nineteenth century, the Catawba embraced this opportunity to market their wares. The tradition of attending public events to market...
5. Teaching the Craft
The teaching of the Catawba pottery tradition is guarded jealously. The Indians have always been determined to keep their tribal possession in their hands. One of the major concerns among the potters regarding tribal-based research for this book was that non-Catawba might learn Catawba construction methods. It was
6. Professionalism and the Catawba Potters
Due recognition has come slowly to the Catawba potters. The signing of Catawba pottery vessels is a relatively recent practice, and today collectors expect to see signatures on the bottom of the vessels they purchase. As is often the case, however, even the most modern Catawba innovations often have deep roots that reach into the past.
7. A Native Resource, Clay
The Catawba potters use two types of clay, pipe clay (wimis
8. Tools: Ancient and Modern Adaptations
The pottery tools currently in use among the Catawba reflect an interesting mix of the ancient and the modern. Some of these objects, simple as they are, have a history of their own, are treasured as heirlooms, and can even be the subject of a family dispute. When a potter dies, the tools are divided among the survivors. Hopefully the...
9. Building Pots: Woodland and Mississippian Methods
The beginning Catawba potter faces many problems, one of which is learning a wide variety of construction techniques that follow a
10. Design Motifs
To add extra decorative elements to their wares, many Catawba potters employ incised designs. Unfortunately, while archaeologists often excavate incised Catawba pieces in their digs, to date no one has found a site that reveals the complete body of Catawba motifs. This is true even for the area within just a few miles of the Catawba Reservation...
11. The Pipe Industry
The Catawba pipe tradition traces its roots to the very origin of tobacco use and the invention of smoking paraphernalia in the Southeast. It continues to exhibit great vitality, and pipes are produced in a wide assortment of forms and styles (see Figures 29, 30, and 31). Making pipes is, in effect, a Catawba sub-tradition. Since pipe bending,...
12. Burning the Pottery
The Catawba pottery tradition
The Catawba pottery tradition is alive and well. The craft remains a strong reflection of what the Catawbas’ ancestors made before the coming of the white man. The pottery is still closely tied to the Indians’ economy. Today, however, the potters are amazed to learn the prices demanded by their predecessors. The smoking pipe that sold for...