Exploring Northeast Georgia
Meaders Family Pottery
If you’re interested in Georgia’s geology, then you probably already know that the soils of the Piedmont are a rich red color for which Georgia is famous. The red coloring is a mixture of kaolinite and halloysite and of iron oxides. This mixture, weathered over time, yields a clay rich soil that has been the foundation for a northeast Georgia tradition of folk pottery.
On a recent warm spring evening, Annette Meaders Boswell & her husband Mike graciously took me on a tour of the land across the road from their home place where a lone chimney and the ruined pottery shop buildings and wood fired kiln are reminders of a rich family history of pottery making. The ruins are located close to where her great grandfather, John Milton Meaders had built his home in 1876.
Ruins of Old Meaders Pottery Shop
Annette shared wonderful stories from her childhood of growing up watching the pottery being fired. Firing the kiln was a big event in the neighborhood. Annette described it as somewhat of a “carnival event” with folks gathering around. The kiln would be fired with slats from local sawmills and the flames would be visible for miles around as they fed the fire to reach the required 2500-degree temperature for firing the pots. Times have changed since then and now more modern methods are used for creating decorative pottery. Back when her great grandfather John and her grandfather Cheever Meaders were making pottery there was a need for the large pots to preserve and store foods, such as beans, kraut, syrup and churns for making butter. This was before modern canning methods and glass jars were available.
A mixture of new and old pots
Although Annette & Mike have not carried on the tradition of making pottery for a living, Mike has constructed a small kiln where they can fire their own pottery. In the photo above on the right is an example of a piece that Annette made with handles and bunches of grapes on the sides. The other pieces in the picture are some old pots that they discovered buried on their property. Annette kindly explained to this “pottery novice” that the old jugs with the two lip handles were for storage, such as pickled beans. The taller jugs with the two ear type handles were for pouring and storing syrup.
Photo of an Old Kiln
Annette took the time to explain to me the labor intensive process they had used to make these large clay jugs. It fascinated me that she can pick up a jug and tell me which one of her family members had made the piece. Close to the old kiln is what looks like an old heap of dirt but as we walked closer Annette began to dig with her hands between the briars and weeds. She would hold up shards of pottery and continue her stories, showing me examples of terms such as “tobacco stain glaze”. For a novice of pottery terms, I leaned many things, including that the jugs had to be glazed before firing so that they would hold liquids.
Annette Meaders Boswell holding shards of pottery
Although the old ways of making pottery have been replaced by more modern methods, the history lives on in documentaries and books. Clay in the Blood: The Meaders Family Folk Pottery Tradition is a DVD featuring footage from the original Smithsonian film documenting Cheever Meader’s traditional way of making North Georgia pottery and the last known taped interview with the late Lanier Meaders. It was produced in 1996. To hear a 2002 interview with Annette about the history and legacy of her family’s generations of pottery making visit youtube.com and follow this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5JM9343rEI