The ‘Dirt’ on Local Pottery—Beauty From the Earth

Generations of local artists make their mark on local history with native clays and natural elements.

  • Publication date April 22, 2021
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The Greenwood community is always able to give history a little twist, bringing fresh ideas to the way of life here. The arts community is no exception. A robust group of artists working in all media call Greenwood County home, with spectacular, innovative  work by specialists in painting, drawing, glass- and metalwork, fiber and jewelry, all available at local galleries and shops. 

Of all the arts to be found in South Carolina, none is more ingrained in local history than pottery and ceramic art. Today, new generations of clay artists are re-imagining the art form and paying homage to the area’s history in unique and beautiful ways. Several studios, the Arts Center and various events in the area celebrate this renaissance of South Carolina pottery. 

Digging Up Local Pottery History

The state’s rich red clay was a resource for Native American earthenware pottery created as much as 4,500 years ago. And, for the last 200 years, the Edgefield area has been famous for its non-porous stoneware, usually glazed and fired at high temperatures.

Nearby Edgefield County was the first community in the Southeast to succeed in commercially producing stoneware. From the town of Pottersville, the work spread to other communities where clay artists made beautiful use of the natural materials available to them: not only red clay but also white clay called kaolin, pine, sand and feldspars. A slave known to historians today only as “Dave the Potter” was regarded as a master of the art form, and he created pottery for several manufacturers.

Skipping ahead to the early 2000s, well known potter and educator Gary Clontz established a professional certification program for potters through Piedmont Technical College. Many Greenwood-area potters got their start through Clontz’s program and went on to open their own studios. Bob Taft and other like-minded clay artists started GASP, the Greenwood Area Studio Potters. One of their first efforts was the Empty Bowls project, which has grown to cover nearly half of the annual budget for the Greenwood Soup Kitchen.

In 2011, Sandy Singletary took the helm at Lander University, building up the ceramic program and teaching another generation of talented and innovative local potters. 

Showstoppers and Rising Stars

The Arts Center of Greenwood will hold an exciting showcase and sale for local clay artists, both long-time professionals and Lander students. “Earth Into Art…A Greenwood Clay Community” will take place from  9 a.m. – 5 p.m., on Saturday, May 8. The show is a collaboration between GASP, The Art Center and Lander University Department of Art

A unique intergenerational event is part of the show, as families will work together to decorate clay tiles which will become part of permanent mural at the Greenwood Soup Kitchen. From noon to 3 p.m., families will work on the tiles for the “Helping Hands in the Community” mural. The event also includes pottery demonstrations and a children’s reading from the book: “Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave.” 

Both in local studios and in the Earth Into Art sale, you’ll find great variety in style, influence and product, including functional, conceptual and everything in between. From the bold, Native American-inspired work of Barbara Warner to the clean lines of Bob Taft’s modern and traditional pieces, local potters demonstrate the spectrum of possibility. 

Lander graduate Sean Thrasher uses slabs of white clay for organic, hand-built pieces with fanciful surface decoration, much in demand by regional collectors.  Another Lander alum, Sydney Conley, specializes in functional pieces with simple, clean lines, and interesting ridges, glazes and colors.

Annie Keith’s wheel-thrown pottery often features sculpted additions with delicate, hand-painted flowers and birds inspired by her garden. Nathan Goddard, who teaches at both Lander and Wofford, creates organic, Japanese-influenced pieces inspired by his travels. Mike Johansen, a retired teacher, uses traditional techniques and styles to create his eclectic work. He adds contrasting forms, textures, colors, lines and natural elements. 

Many of those artists’ work is available through Main & Maxwell in Uptown Greenwood and at other studios. Partners in Clay is home to five potters who share a studio with painter Dr. Roger Stevenson at the beautiful garden and nursery center at Wyatt Farms, creating their own work and teaching adult group classes.

The evolving clay art community is supporting and encouraging younger artists as they make their mark on this piece of local heritage.

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