Friday, January 25, 2008

why I make pottery

This sweet little pitcher was a Christmas gift from my friend Katherine. It came with 7 small bowls and may well be one of the nicest gifts I've every been given. The set was made by Lee and Pup McCarty, famous Mississippi Delta potters, sometime in the late 1960s. Dr. and Mrs. McCarty are unfailingly gracious- I see them a half-dozen or so times a year in Memphis at the library, the museum, and at the farmer's market. Every time I see them I feel quite a bit like I've just met Brad Pitt- I gush, am flustered, and generally act starstruck. And, because they are so gracious, they always seem to remember who I am.

Most Mississippians know McCarty pottery. Many Mississippi brides (though I am not a native of the state, my husband and I met and married in Oxford, so I feel as though the state, with all of its faults and glories, is a part of me) receive at least a piece or two of McCarty pottery as gifts. Gary and I were fortunate to receive quite a lot of it. The simple, sculptural forms, bold cobalt (also jade or nutmeg, as seen here) matte glaze, and useful nature of this pottery inspired me to try my hand at the wheel after we left Oxford and I was between jobs. I never dreamed that I would make my living from pottery when I began in 2000, nor did I imagine I would be able to tell Dr. and Mrs. McCarty how much they influenced me.

My personal pottery style changed rapidly from mimicking other potters to finding my own expression in mud, but I can clearly see their influence- especially in this tiny bird-like form. I do enjoy using my McCarty every day- our sugar bowl, tea cannister, and ramekins are all theirs. This pitcher is filed with a few short twigs of winter honeysuckle (lonicera fragrantissima) from my neighbor's yard. It blooms every January and fills a room with its sweet lemony perfume. The small, wavy black line on the pitcher is one of the signatures of McCarty pottery- it represents the Mississippi River and can be found on the vast majority of their functional pottery.

If you are ever in the Mississippi Delta, it is worth your time to take a side trip to Merigold, where the McCarty studio and gardens are located. We went down for my 29th birthday, four years ago, and even in mid-March the gardens were fabulous. The McCartys are wonderful artists and fine people; I am grateful for their influence on my life and craft.


Anonymous said...

I have a hippo that was made in the 70's or 80' in Merigold Mississippi. It is about 12 inches long and about 14 inches in circumfrence. On the underside it has a name that seems to start with an M and ends in a y. The color is brown striated with a lighter sand. The ears, nose and tail are in detail. My ex husband gave it to me in 1984. He had it before then. I took it to Plum Nellys in Chattanooga but the new owners werent sure about it although it had been purchased at that store a long time ago. One of the workers said she thought is was rare and the potter only made a few. I would really like to know the name of the artist and its value. If you think you might know I will send pictures. Please contact me at My name is ann.

Anonymous said...

It is probably a McCarty piece. McCarty still has a pottery shop & showroom in Merigold, MS an your description sounds like the coloring of most of his work. I'm not sure as to the rarity of the piece, however, you could probably find out more by contacting someone there at his shop. Here's the address to the McCarty Pottery site:

Hope you find it useful :)

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