- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 8, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Lee McCarty, an award-winning artisan who worked with his wife for decades to turn Mississippi clay into pottery that became collector’s pieces, died Monday at his home in the Delta town of Merigold. He was 92.

McCarty died early Monday of a heart attack while he slept, Bolivar County Deputy Coroner Murry Roark said.

A memorial service is set for 11 a.m. Thursday at Calvary Episcopal Church in Cleveland, Mississippi. McCarty’s body is being donated to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said Stephen Smith, a godson who helped run the family business.

Lee McCarty was a World War II veteran. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi and a master’s degree in education from Columbia University. After returning to Mississippi, he taught science at University High School in Oxford, and he and his wife, Pup, studied pottery at Ole Miss. Nobel laureate William Faulkner let the McCartys use clay from a ravine near his home in Oxford as they were starting their work, the company’s website says.

The couple founded McCartys Pottery studio in 1954 in a former mule barn owned by a relative in Merigold. They exhibited pieces at several museums around the United States by the early 1960s and won first prize in 1961 in a national show at the Delgado Museum in New Orleans.

In 1996, the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters presented a lifetime achievement award to the couple. In 2012, McCartys Pottery received the Mississippi Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts.

The McCartys developed their own matte glaze in shades of jade, cobalt and nutmeg, and each piece has a wavy black line representing the Mississippi River. Much of their pottery was for practical use - vases, plates, bowls, platters and casserole dishes.

“I grew up in the Mississippi Delta, and I’ve eaten off it my entire life,” said David Naron, 38, co-owner of Oxford Floral in Oxford, Mississippi, one of the shops that has sold McCartys pieces for decades.

After Pup McCarty died in 2009, Lee McCarty continued to work at the small studio, visiting with customers who stopped by to browse or to eat at an adjoining restaurant.

Smith’s brother, Jamie, is also a godson of the McCartys.

Jamie Smith has been making pottery since he was a child and returned home to Merigold in 1998 “to really study under Uncle Lee and Aunt Pup in a serious fashion,” Stephen Smith said Tuesday.

McCartys Pottery will remain open, with Jamie Smith continuing to create new pieces and Stephen Smith continuing to run the business operations, including the restaurant.

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