Jump-starting Jugtown broke with tradition

“It was disgusting, but you learned to expect to lose a certain amount of pottery. I don’t know why people thought there’s nothing could be done about it. If you grow up thinking that is the way it is, then you accept it. It’s a funny thing that people have made pottery around here for years and years, and they still didn’t have any idea about any technical thing about it. They just dug clay and turned pots. …

“Till the late 1960s I didn’t really care that much….You could lose some and still get enough money to eat, so — let it break. I just made pottery cause Daddy made pottery, you know, and I didn’t put any value whatsover on it. ”

— Vernon Owens, quoted in “Raised in Clay: The Southern Pottery Tradition” by Nancy Sweezy (1984)

Sweezy, who in 1968 took on the revival of the moribund Jugtown pottery tradition, died Feb. 6 in Cambridge, Mass. She was 88.

My expertise is limited to the chicken pie dish in our kitchen cabinet, but I’ve always been fascinated by Jugtown’s confluence of tradition and innovation, craft and commerce. One of many changes under Sweezy’s stewardship: clay mixtures less prone to breakage.


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