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Catawba Indian Pottery

The Survival of a Folk Tradition

Written by Thomas John Blumer and with foreword by William L. Harris

Publication Year: 2004

A comprehensive study that traces the craft of pottery making among the Catawba Indians of North Carolina from the late 18th century to the present. When Europeans encountered them, the Catawba Indians were living along the river and throughout the valley that carries their name near the present North Carolina-South Carolina border. Archaeologists later collected and identified categories of pottery types belonging to the historic Catawba and extrapolated an association with their protohistoric and prehistoric predecessors. In this volume, Thomas Blumer traces the construction techniques of those documented ceramics to the lineage of their probable present-day master potters or, in other words, he traces the Catawba pottery traditions. By mining data from archives and the oral traditions of contemporary potters, Blumer reconstructs sales circuits regularly traveled by Catawba peddlers and thereby illuminates unresolved questions regarding trade routes in the protohistoric period. In addition, the author details particular techniques of the representative potters factors such as clay selection, tool use, decoration, and firing techniques which influence their styles. In assessing the work, David G. Moore, of Warren Wilson College, states, "This book represents an enormous body of work concerned with a significant topic the persistence of the Catawba Indian pottery tradition. Using his extensive fieldwork and a narrative presentation, the author juxtaposes the evolving ceramic technology with a fascinating discussion of the role of pottery in changing Catawba economy from the 18th and continuing into the 21st century." Thomas John Blumer is a retired ethnohistorian and author of Bibliography of the Catawba. William Harris is a respected leader of the Catawba Indian Nation.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. vii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-xi

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pp. xiii-xv

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...

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pp. xvii-xxi

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.

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1. Discovering the Catawba

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pp. 1-12

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.

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2. A Family Economy Based on Pottery

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pp. 13-28

With the coming of the white man the Catawba faced immediate economic disaster based

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3. Peddling Pottery

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pp. 29-45

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...

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4. The Indian Circuit

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pp. 46-62

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...

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5. Teaching the Craft

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pp. 63-73

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

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6. Professionalism and the Catawba Potters

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pp. 74-91

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.

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7. A Native Resource, Clay

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pp. 92-106

The Catawba potters use two types of clay, pipe clay (wimis

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8. Tools: Ancient and Modern Adaptations

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pp. 107-118

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...

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9. Building Pots: Woodland and Mississippian Methods

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pp. 119-148

The beginning Catawba potter faces many problems, one of which is learning a wide variety of construction techniques that follow a

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10. Design Motifs

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pp. 149-176

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...

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11. The Pipe Industry

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pp. 177-186

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,...

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12. Burning the Pottery

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pp. 187-195

The Catawba pottery tradition

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pp. 196-198

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...

References Cited

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pp. 199-208


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pp. 209-223

E-ISBN-13: 9780817381684
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817350611

Publication Year: 2004