- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2006


Along a winding country road here, the wood kiln that the famed Meaders clan used to hone their craft now rots.

John Burrison’s first pilgrimage to the now rundown relic of north Georgia’s pottery boom was in 1968, just after Cheever, the clan’s patriarch, died.

Cheever’s son Lanier must have known that Mr. Burrison would devote his career to chronicling the hilly region’s pottery, or at least that the young scholar was a folklorist at Georgia State University. Just before Mr. Burrison left, the potter called out, “Don’t be a stranger.”

And Mr. Burrison wasn’t, visiting every month or so for the next few decades to study the legends of Georgia’s folk pottery world.

There was the Ferguson clan, which helped popularize the face jug, small clay plots emblazoned with hideous looking figures. And the Hewell family, which forged its own pottery empire across the county line in Gillsville, creating unglazed planters that were quickly snapped up by gardeners.

And, of course, the Meaders family, a clan whose artistry and devotion to pottery earned a visit by the Smithsonian Institution and, later, documentaries that chronicled the painstaking work that went into each clay jug.

The story of those families — and their crafts — is documented in the town of Sautee Nacoochee, where the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia shows how pottery helped shape the region.

Making pottery was a matter of survival to north Georgia’s settlers. Before modern canning and refrigeration, each household needed dozens of jugs to hold water and whiskey and preserve vegetables, fruits and meat.

As technology improved and north Georgia began to prosper, the crafters began devoting more time to the artistry of their work. The pieces became more ornate, embellished by carvings of farm scenes or engravings of grape vines. And some started to churn out face jugs, devilish looking creations that some used to scare their children into doing chores.

At the exhibit’s end there’s a showcase of dozens of works, crafted by a dozen or so living heirs of the Meaders, Ferguson and Hewell clans. The demand has changed, and a thriving collector’s market wants more and more unique pottery.

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