2. Monuments to Clay: Public Markers of Craft Identity

From: Global Clay

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36 2 | monuments to clay Public Markers of Craft Identity “All this of Pot and Potter—Tell me then, Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?” The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (early twelfth century)1 Traditional potters of the past, as well as the present, have tended to cluster in pottery-making communities rather than to work in isolation . In parts of the Far East such nucleated workshops, as well as individual ones, are referred to as “kilns,” in reference to one of the most critical and prominent features of the production process. For example, devotees of Japanese ceramics refer to the “Six Ancient Kilns”: Shigaraki, Tamba, Bizen, Tokoname, Seto, and Echizen, each comprising a number of related villages or towns working in a shared regional style. In Rhineland Germany’s Westerwald region stoneware production today is concentrated in Kannenbäckerland (“Jug-Baking Land”), which includes the combined towns of Höhr-Grenshausen and Ransbach-Baumbach as well as Grenzau, Hilgert, Hillscheid, and Montabaur. In Staffordshire, what was a hand-based folk craft in the 1600s became, under the leadership of such entrepreneurs as Josiah Wedgwood, Josiah Spode, and Ralph, Aaron, and Enoch Wood a century later, the center of England’s pottery industry, collectively known as “The Potteries” or “Six Towns”: Stoke-on-Trent, Hanley, Burslem, Tunstall, Longton, and Fenton. In the American South, no fewer than seven pottery centers were named Jugtown after one of their chief products: in North Carolina, Catawba and Lincoln counties, Buncombe County, and Randolph and Moore counties where the famous Jugtown Pottery was founded in 1921 (fig. 2.1); in South Carolina, Greenville County; in Tennessee, White County; in Georgia, Upson and Pike counties; and in Alabama, Shelby County. A few of these Jugtowns were officially recognized with post offices. Figure 2.1. Jugtown Pottery, Seagrove, Moore County, North Carolina, founded 1921 by Jacques and Juliana Busbee and now owned and operated by Vernon and Pam Owens and their children, Travis and Bayle. The revival and transformation of this pottery community that today includes about 100 workshops began here. Photograph: Janet Koplos, courtesy of photographer and American Craft Council. 38 | Global Clay Today, in certain communities throughout the world, concentrations of traditional potters are still at work. Access to a good clay source begins to account for this ceramic gregariousness, as these small-scale operations, in the past at least, could not afford to import their clay from any distance or use preprocessed commercial clay as do today’s studio potters. Another factor would be the mutual help a potter could turn to when needed, a security blanket arising from the shared sense of occupational kinship that Georgia potter D. X. Gordy called a “brotherhood of clay.”2 An obvious disadvantage, on the other hand, is the potential competition with potter neighbors. In the Old World, such relationships were formalized with trade guilds that established quality-control standards, regulated prices, and settled disputes among members, functions sometimes assumed today by potters’ cooperative organizations. What I’ve learned for Georgia, with its eight pottery centers, probably applies in outline to at least some centers elsewhere. Historically, the Georgia centers began when a pioneer potter, migrating from another center, settled near a good clay source. After successfully producing and selling wares (mainly to farmers who needed them to store food and drink), he attracted others into his orbit looking to supplement their farming incomes. Some of these had previous pottery backgrounds , while others learned the craft by apprenticing with an established potter there. Marriage between members of different pottery families contributed literally to that occupational kinship, leading in extreme cases to large “clay clans” or pottery dynasties, such as the Ferguson-Hewell group of Jug Factory in Barrow County and Gillsville in Hall County, that resulted in a total of more than sixty folk potters over several generations, all related by blood or marriage.3 These examples, which belong to what we can think of as ceramic geography, made me wonder how the inhabitants of such communities express pride in their occupation and present themselves to outsiders as a means of attracting customers . For while some folk potters work at the craft only part time or seasonally by combining potting with other activities such as farming, most create their wares to sell or barter, not just for their own use and certainly not as a hobby. However modest their business models may be in comparison to factories like those arising...


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