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From: Creole Clay

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Preface In March 1993, I was a potter on holiday in the Caribbean, attempting to navigate through the crowded central marketplace in the city of Castries, Saint Lucia. While I knew almost nothing about the Caribbean, what I did know was ceramics, and my guidebook had promised that this was the place to find local pottery. Coming from the luxurious, all-inclusive confines of my family vacation, I was completely unprepared for the sensory overload of a Caribbean market—the intense smells and colors of tropical spices, fruits and vegetables I could not recognize, outdoor butcher shops and indoor fish stalls, lots of vendors and not enough customers. And there also, amid straw baskets, T-shirts, wood carvings, and painted coconuts, were the quiet forms and unglazed surfaces of the most honest pots I had ever seen, honest in the sense that they were pots created entirely for use. After a brief conversation with a rather imposing market lady, I bought my first St. Lucian pot, a small handbuilt kettle made of local earthenware clay with the intermittent black and gray markings of an open bonfire. It traveled home with me in my carry-on luggage, and I have spent the better part of the past twenty-five years trying to understand the story embedded in this one apparently simple pot (fig. 0.2). After those sun-drenched days in the tropics I returned to my studio in snowbound Massachusetts predictably distracted. I had been completely focused on a career in clay, with a graduate degree in ceramics, a short stint teaching at a private high school, and an established business making high-end functional pots. Following the trip to Saint Lucia, the painted imagery of houses, dogs, cats, and fruit that decorated my work soon came to include palm trees, tropical fish, and volcanic peaks. The excellent library of my alma mater, the University of Massachusetts, was just down the road from my studio, and I assumed it held all I needed to know about the pottery of Saint Lucia. But my first attempt at research produced only two results—a brief 1962 article in Craft Horizons magazine on what appeared to be similar pottery in Nevis, and a peculiar memoir from the same year titled Orchids on the Calabash Tree written by retired journalist George T. Eggleston. Eggleston and his wife Hazel were the first American couple to build a house in Saint Lucia; they bought land in 1956 while on a charter yacht cruise, built the house Figure 0.1.The twin volcanic peaks of the Petit Piton (743 m/2438 ft) and the Gros Piton (771 m/2530 ft) mark the border between the districts of Soufriere and Choiseul in southern Saint Lucia.These iconic landmarks have a long cultural history in the region and are visible to sailors at great distances. The Pitons Management Area was declared a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site in 2004. Photo by Edwin Everham. xix xx Preface Figure 0.2.This small kettle form, called a krish in St. Lucian patois after the French cruche, or ceramic water pitcher, was handmade in local clay by Delia Peter in Choiseul, Saint Lucia. It belongs to a family of forms historically made for cooling drinking water in southern Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean. in 1957, and lived in Saint Lucia for twenty-two years. On page 193 of Eggleston’s memoir, in a description of his first driving tour around the island I found the following passage: “A half hour more of hair-raising mountain roads and we entered the coastal village of Choiseul. We paused in the town to ask a passer-by about the pottery works, which we understood has made pots and braziers of baked local clay for centuries. The man on the street smiled at our query. The people all make pottery in their homes, he said, but as for today, ‘Egas, no mahn can make de pots when de rain all time come down down down.’” Following these instructions, I returned to Saint Lucia in May 1993 and found myself on the same hair-raising roads in a private taxi courtesy of the Saint Lucia Tourist Board to whom I had written explaining my interest in documenting the work of the potters. We toured the island from north to south and back again, and while every stop was illuminating, the life-changer came at a sharp bend in a particularly bad road in the Choiseul community of Morne...


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