South Carolina’s Old 96 District is still throwing clay.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Go ahead and touch. Not words you often hear while staring at a wall of breakable art that dates back centuries. But at Edgefield Pottery, you don’t need to keep your hands in your pockets: You can touch history.
“Edgefield Pottery is a tradition that dates back to the 1800s,” says potter Justin Guy, while standing in his studio in Edgefield, South Carolina. The wall of shelves behind him holds pieces that chronicle the history of this local art form. The pots, jugs and other containers aren’t housed behind glass, they’re just sitting open and touchable. (And he encourages me and my travel companion to put our hands on a piece, with supervised caution, but still!)
“Pottery has been made in this area for 5,000 years,” says Guy. Why here? The Old 96 District boasts easy access to water, wood and clay that’s rich with the minerals needed for pottery.
Edgefield Pottery is traditionally made in hues of olive green to pumpkin brown and is typically functional “utilitarian ware.” Some pieces bear grotesque faces, a tradition with both functional and religious inspirations.
One piece in Guy’s collection reads “Dave 1857”; it’s one of the Edgefield Pottery pieces made by enslaved artist Dave Landrum—some of Dave’s pieces are on display in the American History Museum at the Smithsonian. A slave who was taught to read and write, Dave signed some of his pieces and inscribed some with lines of poetry that he’d written.
Guy continues to produce pieces in the local tradition and sells them at his studio. (Prices and selection vary.) “The process from clay to a finished product takes about six months,” Guy explains. “I’ve got something in every stage of the process,” so you can learn about the craft and perhaps even catch a demonstration in addition to browsing and shopping during a visit.
Guy is skilled and happy: “Everybody wants creativity and autonomy in their job,” he says. “What better than clay?”
230 Simpkins St.
Edgefield, SC 29824
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