The Indian Circuit

The Catawba potters have long seen the wisdom of capitalizing on their Indianness. Young and old are well aware of their historical importance. When fairs and expositions became popular at the end of the nineteenth century, the Catawba embraced this opportunity to market their wares. The tradition of attending public events to market their wares is old among the potters.

In 1895, MacDonald Furman fostered the idea of exhibiting Catawba pottery at the Cotton States International Exposition in Atlanta, and he contacted the local papers and the governor:

Now I want to speak of another matter. I enclose a clipping which you may not have seen, but I feel sure you will approve of my suggestion. I speak in words of praise in the article of what you have done in regard to the Atlanta Exposition exhibit from South Carolina. I now request that if you can do anything in an official capacity to have the exhibit of Catawba wares that you will do it. I have written to Capt. A. E. Smith [the Catawba agent], commissioners Roddey and Brice and Chief Harris, of the tribe, stating that if the exhibit is gotten up, I will contribute one dollar towards paying its expenses. I take a keen interest in the Catawba and am very anxious for this exhibit to be gotten up. (Rock Hill Herald, 6 March 1895; Furman to John Gray Evans, 25 March 1895, MacDonald Furman Papers, Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia)

Beyond Furman's efforts, nothing is known about Catawba participation in this fair. However, the Catawba speak of other such events from the beginning of the twentieth century.

More is known about the South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition of 1901 held in Charleston (Rock Hill Herald, 17 July 1901:3). As early as July 1901, two commissioners from York County negotiated with the Catawba Tribal Council. The goal was to recruit

19th Century Tribal Pottery
Figure 2. Indian head jar attributed to Robert Lee Harris. Origin, the 1913 Corn Show in Columbia, South Carolina. From the Blumer Collection. (Photo by Brent L. Kendrick)

20 to 25 Catawba Indians, preferably "healthy purebloods," to populate a demonstration village. The Exposition officials offered transportation and a "remote location" in the fairgrounds. It is difficult to say if the location was a Catawba idea or chosen according to the wishes of the Exposition organizers. The result was that the Indians were housed away from the core exhibitions. During their stay, the Catawba were to support themselves from pottery sales. Of those who might have gone, only Epp Harris left a record. Georgia Harris recalls seeing a photograph of him taken at the Exposition. He was in full Indian regalia (Georgia Harris, interview, 12 August 1980, BC). This and other photographs documenting the event have yet to be located.

In 1913, similar arrangements were made for the Corn Show in Columbia. The documentation here is stronger. The Corn Show may provide insights regarding earlier fairs the Catawba attended. Excitement ran high among those non-Indians who attended the fair. The Catawba purpose, of course, was to sell pottery. Other attractions the Indians offered included the making of Indian corn bread (ash bread) and bows and arrows (Evening Herald, 25 January 1913:1). The party of 22 included men, women, and children. Richard Harris recalled that they gathered in Rock Hill the night before and caught the morning train. Although Doris Blue was a young girl, she was able to provide a partial list of those who participated in the Corn Exposition: John and Rachel Brown and children; Archie and Rosie Wheelock and children; Lewis and Sallie Gordon; Benjamin and Mary (Dovie) Harris; and Epp and Martha Jane Harris (Doris Blue, interview, 24 March 1980, BC).

This time the Catawba were provided a demonstration area in the main exposition building rather than a remote area (State, 27 January I9i3a:9). Doris Blue recalled the excitement of living away from home and being with a crowd of strangers. "I remember going, and I remember all of these Indians. There was a bunch of them went, and they gave us this long tin building to put our exhibit in. We stayed and lived in there—slept in there. But that is about all [I remember]" (Doris Blue, interview 24 March 1980, BC).

The Catawba Exhibit proved to be a major attraction. Every day, people flocked to see their first Indians (Evening Herald, 25 January 1913:1). The pottery quickly sold out. Daily demonstrations of pottery making held viewers' interest high. Indian dances were performed before large crowds (Record, 12 February 1913:12; State, 3 February I9i3b:i2). Robert Lee Harris (Red Cloud), a former member of the Daniel Boone Troop, led the Catawba in the Fox Chase, Bear, Wild Goose, and War Dances. Spectators were fascinated by Catawba rattles. Some were made from cow horns filled with buckshot. In a faint recollection of the Busk, which the Catawba had not celebrated for many years, the women dancers wore traditional turtle-shell rattles tied to their ankles.

The Indians were so pleased with the Corn Show that they returned to Columbia for the State Fair for many years. Furman Harris recalls selling pottery there with Joe Sanders. The two men stayed a week and slept in Joe Sanders's car. During this same period, Eva Blue attended the State Fair as part of a large Catawba delegation. The group included her husband Guy Blue, Rosie Wheelock, Lucy Starnes, Emma Brown, and Early Brown (Eva Blue, interview, 20 April 1977, BC).

The Indians began attending so many fairs they ended up not being able to distinguish one from another. Consequently, it is difficult to find recollections of one particular fair. Mildred Blue had a childhood memory of her family taking her grandmother, Rosie Wheelock, to the State Fair in Columbia: "We'd go . . . to the State Fair and spend a week down there. . . . You'd have to have your own transportation and take your pottery and your material. They'd furnish a booth to put your pottery in—a little stand like. We'd take my grandmother down there and leave her there, and then we'd go back on the weekend when the fair closed and bring her home" (Mildred Blue, interview, 24 March

1983, BC). Many times the potters recall things that have little to do with the pottery tradition. This is the case with Jennie Brindle, who had vivid recollections of a fair held at Grier, South Carolina, around 1930. "They had a hog calling. Put a dollar on a greased pole, and we watched men try to climb the pole, and they had a greased pig too. Lula Beck went and so did Ervin and Eliza Gordon and some others. We stayed right there and sold all we took and had a lot of fun too" (Jennie Brindle, interview, 12 April 1977, BC).

When York County began its own annual fair, the Catawba were always given space for a booth. Prizes were awarded for the best pottery, and some of these awards appeared in the newspaper. In 1952, Georgia Harris took first prize. Nola Campbell, who took second prize, recalls the event: "I took pottery to the fair. We set up a booth, and I can remember winning second prize. Georgia got first. She got 10 dollars and I got five. I can't recall what I made then, but it might have been a small pitcher. I got in free because I had pottery on exhibit. I did that only that one year" (Nola Campbell, interview, 15 March 1977, BC).

In 1938, the tribe organized its own fair. The first event went unnoticed by the local papers, but the second annual Catawba Indian Fair received some publicity. The first, second, and third pottery prizes were awarded to Georgia Harris, Doris Blue, and Sallie Beck in that order (Evening Herald, 22 September 1939:5). This fair was held again in 1940 and 1941 (Evening Herald, 18 October i94oc:i5; Evening Herald, 4 September 1941:1).

The Catawba potters also attended a large number of historical events during the last century, such as the centennial celebration at King's Mountain. "In October 1930, they had a centennial up at King's Mountain Park. We went and sold pottery and camped out. Ervin and Eliza Gordon, Betsy Estridge, and Georgia and Douglas [Harris] went. We sold a lot. We had an Indian dance. One day the president came, and I saw Herbert Hoover as he passed by on the road. He didn't stop to look at our pottery. We got 75 cents for a plain pot, and if it had handles we got a dollar" (Furman Harris, interviews, 19 April 1977; 1 March 1981, BC). A similar market was provided by the summer's events at Camp Steere in North Carolina. Rosie Wheelock and Mae Blue frequently sold pipes to the Boy Scouts who gathered there (Doris Blue, interview, 15 March 1977, BC; Mae Blue, interview, 21 April 1977, BC).

One of the most ambitious Catawba efforts to use historical celebrations as venues for selling pottery began in 1935 at the Schoenbrun Village State Memorial in Ohio. Schoenbrun is a reconstructed late-eighteenth-century Moravian Mission to the American Indians (Weinland 1928). Interest in restoring the site of the mission and the Gnadenhutten Massacre of 1782, where nearly 100 Christian Indians were

Catawba Indians Beading
Figure 3. Postcard photograph of the Early Brown family working at Schoen-brun Village, Ohio. Back row: Early Brown. Front row, left to right: Joanne George, Evelyn Brown George, Faye George, and Emma Harris Brown. (Blumer Collection)

murdered, began in the early 1920s. Over time, land was purchased, the settlement was planned, and the first building was meticulously reconstructed in 1927. Soon after the Memorial opened, Schoenbrun officials contacted two Catawba potters of reputation: Early and Emma Brown. They were to provide the park with an Indian presence through pottery-making demonstrations. According to the agreement, the Catawba were provided with transportation and lodging. Once at Schoen-brun, the potters were to make and sell pottery and thus support themselves. "A man, Mr. G. C. Tyler, came with a truck and got a load of clay. He was from the museum. We did not let him see the clay holes, but he took the truck to a place near the clay holes and waited for us. We got enough clay for the summer" (Evelyn George, interview,

25 March 1977, BC). Those who eventually participated in this effort included:

Samuel Beck, who drove the first group to Ohio, provided a vivid recollection:

In 1935, in the early part of 1935, I can't remember who made contact with Early about going up there and making pottery. We were in a park up there, and I guess maybe it was historical. Somebody made contact with him. So they decided to go up there and demonstrate making pottery and also for the sales of the pottery that they made. I hadn't been driving a car too long, but I had been driving enough so that I had some experience. Of course there wasn't as many cars on the highway as there are now, and he had a 29 A Model Ford—what we called a touring car at that particular time. It had a top on it, and you'd have to put curtains up in it. They didn't have glass [in the windows]. . . .

He asked me to help drive to go up there, so I did. Well, we had to move quite a bit. We were really loaded. We had to take Early and Emma, Marvin and Evelyn, and me and William Brown and all in that car plus all of our luggage and the clay and everything. All of our things that we carried. And I'll never forget, when we were going through Charleston, West Virginia, I wasn't driving then and Uncle Early wanted to bypass town, and I said No, we'd be going out of the way if we had to bypass town at that particular time. It wasn't like having super highways now, but I said, "No, it's a straight shot. We are going to go through town." And so he said, "Well, you'll have to drive through town." And I had to drive through Charleston, but it wasn't like it is now. It was pretty hard to drive through then.

And when we got up there they had cabins in the park, and they assigned us to some of the cabins that they didn't have on exhibit. They

Ethel Beck Samuel Beck Early Brown Elizabeth Brown Emma Brown William (Pete) Brown Alberta Canty (Ferrell) Billy Canty

Catherine Canty Henry Canty Sadie Canty Evelyn George Faye George (Greiner) Howard George Joanne George (Brauer)

Marvin George

(Evelyn George, interview, 25 March 1977, BC; Catherine Canty, interview, 17 February 1977; Alberta Ferrell, interview, 22 February 1977, BC).

had the other things that they had on exhibit in the area for visitors to visit, and I stayed I guess three months or longer, but that was my reason for going with them, to help him drive up there. [They] made pottery, and we helped to beat the clay. I didn't do any rubbing or making any pottery, but we did help them get the clay ready for Emma and to burn the pottery, and we got a lot of publicity out of it. There was a lot of people that visited the park and everything, and they had good sales for the pottery, and it continued for a number of years. I don't know how many years that they made . . . pottery, and they went back a number of times after that, but I didn't go but the one time. (Samuel Beck, interview, 3 May 1987, BC)

The potters were provided living quarters in a nearby Civilian Conservation Corps camp (Catherine Canty, interview, 2 March 1981, BC). The working situation appeared more like a factory than a Catawba family at work. According to Catherine Canty, they were divided into teams:

Ethel Beck and Elizabeth Brown [Plyler] went along to rub pots for us. One went to rub for Emma and one went to rub for me. Billy [Canty] scraped my pottery. I made them, and then when they dried, Billy would scrape them, and Elizabeth would rub them. Ethel Beck did the same thing for Uncle Early and Emma.

The building we worked in had a porch on it and had a fence around it. We sat on the porch during the daytime and built. If it didn't rain too hard we could set out there. I built, Billy scraped, and Elizabeth rubbed. (Catherine Canty, interview, 2 March 1981, BC)

According to Evelyn George, who participated in the demonstrations at Schoenbrun for several years, working conditions were even more regimented than described by Catherine Canty:

We made everything by the dozen. If we made peace pipes, we made a dozen of them. We worked all day like in a factory. I wore an Indian dress, moccasins, beads, and a headpiece. People crowded all around us so we could hardly breathe, and once the kids got gone. Emma thought they got kidnapped. They would ask questions about the pottery. They wanted to know if we lived in tepees, if we made beadwork, and wanted to know if we could speak Indian. One woman offered to buy my little girl, Faye. She offered me thousands. After we left Ohio, the lady sent things for Faye for Christmas. One day we would make pots all day, and the next day we would scrape the pots. (Evelyn George, interview, 20 March 1980, BC)

During this same period, Ervin and Eliza Gordon made similar arrangements to demonstrate and sell pottery in Tannersville, Pennsylvania. The object was to give Pocono Mountain visitors an opportunity to see Indian pottery being made. Although the Gordons always took a number of finished pieces with them, most of the pottery made at Tannersville was built and burned at the resort (Georgia Harris, interview, 20 March 1980, BC). Eliza Gordon built and scraped the pottery and her daughter Gladys rubbed (Georgia Harris, interview 11 May 1977). Eventually Edith Brown joined the Gordons. Georgia Harris, assisted by Gladys Gordon, also held weeklong demonstrations in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (Georgia Harris, interview, 20 March 1977, BC).

When the Cherokee began their yearly fair, the Catawba potters were invited to participate. In 1951, Georgia Harris took first prize. Second and third prizes were awarded to Nola Campbell and Lula Beck (Laurence 1952).

This practice of attending fairs, expositions, and historical events continues. In 1974, Doris Blue began a long and congenial relationship with the Schiele Museum in Gastonia, North Carolina (Hamilton 1994). Then in 1979, Sara Lee and Foxx Ayers joined what had evolved into a yearly Catawba Festival (D. Blue to T. Blumer, Letters: 15 October and 15 November 1979, BC; Doris Blue, interviews, 20 March and 24 March 1980, BC). The Schiele's effort to bring the American Indian story to its visitors was given a tremendous boost in 1984 when its permanent "Catawba Village Exhibit" opened. The Schiele has since become a mecca for students of Catawba history and culture (Burrell 1984). The students who gather there participate in a wide range of programs through the Schiele's Southeastern Native American Studies Program. In 1989, its annual Catawba Festival was attended by 13 Catawba potters. The tenth anniversary of Schiele-sponsored festivals was held in 1994. Today this tradition is continued during the September celebration of Heritage Day.


The Catawba have demonstrated pottery making for about a century. The practice is directly linked to scholarly interest. Most likely, the first non-Catawba to be treated to a close examination of the potters' skills was Edward Palmer in 1884, but his field notes have been lost. An incomplete list of these scholars in chronological order includes Edward Palmer, Albert Gatschet, MacDonald Furman, M. R. Harrington, Truman Michaelson, and Frank G. Speck. More recently, the studies of Vladimir J. Fewkes, Joffre L. Coe, Chapman Milling,

Charles M. Hudson, Jr., and D. S. Brown have benefited from demonstrations (Fewkes 1944; Coe 1952; Milling, interview, 1977, BC).

Harrington's photographs provide the most insight into the earliest pottery demonstrations (Harrington 1908). The Brown family staged each step in the pottery-making process for the camera. In effect, Harrington, though he was a scholar from one of our most prestigious learning institutions, became a student. He listened and watched intently as John and Rachel Brown, his instructors, taught him. Looking back nearly a century after this historic event, it is difficult to assess its initial impact. Were the Browns doing something approved of by the other potters? Did Harrington approach other potters only to be denied access? Were the Browns the only Catawba who welcomed Harrington to witness the craft as it was practiced in 1907? Did the Browns become the point of envy within the community? Did those not photographed feel left out and ignored? Catawba oral tradition is nearly mute on these issues.

There are some indications that the Browns did something revolutionary when they welcomed Harrington into their home and shared their skills with him. Even today some Catawba will not demonstrate pottery making. Jennie Brindle approached the topic in 1977: "The people in Cherokee wanted me to come up and demonstrate pottery making all summer. They even offered to give us a place in a local motel, and they would have bought all of my pottery just so the people there could have seen me make it. I said, 'Floyd, I wouldn't stand it, them seeing me make that pottery. They'd worry me to death.' I'm too backwards to demonstrate. I have too much Indian blood" (Jennie Brindle, interview, 12 April 1977, BC).

Earlier in this century, Susannah Owl felt the same way. If she was working in clay and some strangers approached her home, she customarily put her work away (Cora Wahetah, interview, 1979, BC). Susannah Owl and Jennie Brindle were highly successful in the business of selling pottery, and neither potter was reluctant to meet strangers and talk about their history and culture.

Carrie Garrison, a Winthrop graduate and later a teacher in Rock Hill, understood the shift in the Catawba tradition toward demonstrations. Early in the twentieth century, she purchased a large Indian head bowl from Martha Sanders. At the time, people in Rock Hill noted that Martha Sanders was the first Catawba potter who permitted outsiders to watch her work in clay (Carrie Garrison, interview, 27 January 1977, BC). The Garrison family still treasures the vessel.

Documentation of demonstrations remains a problem. Many potters visit schools and museums for demonstrations, and these events tend to merge in the Indians' minds. Seldom does a local newspaper give space to such activities presented before a first- or second-grade class. This tendency to blend the various demonstrations into one singular memory was definitely the case with Arzada Sanders, who was present when her parents demonstrated for Harrington. Demonstrations were an important part of her long career as a potter. In 1977, her son Fred Sanders provided an outline of her most recent demonstrations. The list included numerous schools in both Carolinas. Much the same can be said of other potters. Invitations are frequent once a willingness to demonstrate is declared. Today, Florence Wade is in great demand as a demonstrator; Faye Greiner has a growing list of schools that call on her. Cheryl and Brian Sanders demonstrate for the South Carolina Arts Commission's artist-in-residence program. Their work carries them to every part of South Carolina.

Although demonstrations are rarely the object of publicity, when the press does record the event, the resulting documentation is usually not what students of Catawba pottery need. Such was the case in 1940 when demonstrations in Confederate Park in Rock Hill were given much fanfare (Evening Herald, 8 August 1940^5). The resulting news article emphasized a made-up wedding dance and an equally made-up Indian wedding. No mention was made of the use of a wedding jug in the ceremony. In any case, the so-called wedding jug is an import from the Pueblo potters through the Cherokee of North Carolina (Blumer 1980).

The memories of non-Indians often help balance the picture, but the information provided is usually not very pointed. For instance, Anne Brock of Rock Hill recalled that schoolchildren often visited the Nation, and that such groups watched pottery demonstrations (Anne Brock, interview, 19 April 1977, BC). But those who gave the demonstrations are not much more informative. For instance, when Bertha Harris was interviewed in 1977, she merely recalled that she, Connie Collins, and Arzada Sanders had demonstrated the year before in Freedom Park in Charlotte, North Carolina (Bertha Harris, interview, 3 February 1977, BC). In order to go beyond these cursory recollections, one must attend demonstrations and take notes. Few scholars have had an opportunity to witness the Catawba at work with a large group of students.

In April 1977, several Catawba potters provided demonstrations for the Winthrop College Art Department in conjunction with an exhibition/ sale held there. Frances Wade, Connie Collins, and Billie Anne McKel-lar conducted the first session. Most of those in attendance were students and faculty. The group gathered around a large worktable and extra chairs were fetched from nearby classrooms. Mrs. Wade described her experience in detail:

First, I made a bowl with rolls and added a top and fluted it in and out to show the possibilities the clay would permit. Then I made a plain bowl. Then I made a candlestick and a basket, just whatever I felt like doing at the moment. The students were upset when I smashed the pieces and made others. I also took my big pitcher without the head to show them the pieces which are not burned properly can be detected by the dull thud. And I told them about burning pots.

I took my big pot with the handles and explained that I had worked too fast, and I discussed the problems of straightness. That pot is irregular, but they failed to see the flaws until I pointed them out and explained that I had worked on the piece for two days, and it should have been a much longer process.

I also showed them my rubbing rocks and explained that the rocks are money and the way I guarded my rubbing rocks. I took the two clays, both sifted and raw, so they could see both in both states. I took some raw pipe clay so they could see that too.

Then I made a canoe and told them about the clay holes and the way we guard them from outsiders. In the old days, we crossed the river in boats and used a wagon to haul the clay from the river bottoms to the reservation. Today we go in cars.

Billie Anne showed them how to scrape a pot, and Connie Collins made a pipe and a turtle.

I also took a canoe along which was filled with air holes to show them bad clay. I told them it would be discarded when I got home, and they were distressed. I also told them about the decline of the art and money problems that the Indians could not get good money for the pottery and the craft declined. The Catawba want to return to the clay, but it is hard work, not easy. There are problems with the clay, problems with the weather, wood, etc.

The students were surprised by the terminology when I told them about burning pots. They were overwhelmed by the softness of the clay. They liked it, but I could not tell them the origin of the clay. (Blumer 1977)

From Mrs. Wade's comments, it becomes obvious that demonstrations usually include unprepared statements. Planning is minimal; however, the more experienced potters usually develop a set routine through repeated experience. For instance, as a rule, Arzada Sanders made two dozen pots and then gave each child, if she was working in an elementary school, a bit of clay to play with (Fred Sanders, interview, 8 February 1977, BC). Those Indians who are gregarious by nature conduct the best demonstrations. Such was the case with Louise

Bryson, who took the lead at the second set of demonstrations at the Winthrop art department:

Louise Bryson: "It's lots of work, nasty. I might just as well tell it like it is. Most of the young people do not know how to make pots. You get tired of it when you have to make a living in the clay, and now it is something new for them. They don't need to work in clay anymore."

Then Louise Bryson told about her grandmother's rubbing rocks and passed the only one she had around the room so the students could feel it.

Bertha Harris then made some rolls and made a base for a pot, working a crimp up on the outer rim of the base and then placing a roll inside the crimped-up rim. In a matter of seconds, she had built a perfectly round bowl, which she promptly destroyed to provide clay for the next piece.

Louise Bryson then described her turtle bowl—how she conceived the idea. She had one with her, but it had not been burned. "I just made a bowl and thought I'd put legs on it, and I thought I'd put four instead of three, and it looked funny so I put a head and a tail on it, and it turned out the way it is. She then talked about problems of finding bits of rock in the clay and trying to rub such a vessel. Bertha Harris talked about digging the clay and going deep enough to get good clean clay and that the hole had to be filled in again. She emphasized the work involved. The clay must be mixed, strained, and put to dry before it could be worked up. Then the clay is ready to build pots.

The students wanted to know about glazes, and Bertha Harris explained that none are used: "It turns out the colors it wants to turn out. We usually use oak wood as the base burning wood, just old black jack oak."

Louise Bryson: "We heat it in the oven first. I burn it in a tub in the yard. I get a hot fire in the tub first and then put the pots in and let the fire burn down twice. I put chips in the tub, and I heat the pots all day in the stove. Then I leave them in the fire for two hours. I start the fire with wood chips, then dry pine, and then oak wood. Oak burns longer and hotter. I temper them with pine wood."

Bertha Harris then explained the old method of burning them in the fireplace.

Louise Bryson: "The sad part is taking them out because some of them might be cracked."

Louise Bryson brought two pots to scrape, and she let two students rub a couple of pipes. One of these pipes was left with a potter in the Art Department so it could be burned in an electric kiln. She was asked about the designs on her pipes, and she explained that her husband carves the designs. She used an inner coil of a large conch shell to rub the pots and explained that her father had found it on the beach and had brought it home.

Bertha Harris then made a small bowl with three rolls and a canoe.

Louise Bryson: "When we burn them, we don't know what color they'll burn out. I like mine black. Some like reds and some whites.

A student then asked if the pipes could be smoked, and Louise Bry-son explained that her husband smokes one but that the reed stem had to be replaced after a while.

Louise Bryson: "Lots burn them in a hole in the ground. If I had a fireplace, I'd burn them inside. I don't know of anyone who has a kiln. We use a fire.

Bertha Harris then began to make a turtle ashtray: "First you make a cylinder like a chunky stone. Insert your thumb and hollow it out inside. Make a hat-like piece. You attach the head by making the head with an extra piece to be inserted into the pot.

Louise Bryson: "Now she has to wait until it dries a bit before she can attach the legs to the turtle. See, it goes in stages. I would make the bowl today, and the next day I would put the legs on, and the next day the head would be put on. The body must be wet so the pieces will stick together."

Bertha Harris made legs for the turtle ashtray.

A student then asked if the legs could just be stuck on, rather than inserted into the bowl.

Louise Bryson: "That is just not the Catawba tradition. We bore holes. You have to bore a hole or they will pop off in the fire. After the leg is inserted, a little roll is worked around the leg to add strength. We always save the scrapings. We try not to lose any clay because it is so hard to get the clay. Maybe you all would like to feel the clay? [Some is passed around the room.] I strain mine through a window screen. I dry mine in a bowl with a cloth liner. Then I work it into balls and put it into plastic bags. It will keep for a month or two that way—won't dry out.

"If the pot cracks after it is rubbed, it cannot be fixed. If the pot should crack after it is newly made, I can fix it, patch it. I haven't learned to make mine thin yet. If the pot is thick, then you have to trim it down until you get the size you want. I don't get mine thin enough.

"It takes years to make a rubbing rock smooth enough to rub a pot well."

The students who had worked clay and knew good clay when they felt it pondered getting some Catawba clay. Some of them expressed their desire to obtain a quantity of clay, and Louise Bryson responded, "It's a terrible sin to sell clay." (Blumer 1977)

The six women who conducted demonstrations at Winthrop held their audiences' attention as confidently as seasoned academics. Both the students and their professors knew they were watching masters at work.

Customarily, the potters do not seek out demonstrations but wait to be asked. As a result, they often do not have much time to prepare. Such was the case in June 1978 when a Rock Hill club contacted Georgia Harris. A two-day notice was no problem, and the comments she made after the event provide insights on how this potter handled large audiences:

I went to the Country Club Thursday evening. They fed me a scrumptious meal. It was the Rock Hill Professional and Business Women's Club. And it was really crowded. Something over 150 women there. They wanted me to tell them how our pottery is made and burned. So I gave them my version on Catawba handmade pottery. I carried a few small pieces just for show. But I did sell one, a turtle. I really enjoyed it. I answered a few questions from some who didn't know how we made our pottery. It began at 6:30 and lasted until 8:30 p.m. Lots of the ladies came up and introduced themselves after the meeting and asked more questions. (G. Harris to T. Blumer, Letter, 18 June 1978, BC)

Museums have long called on the Catawba to enrich their American Indian educational programs. The potters usually respond in teams. For instance, Georgia Harris and Nola Campbell gave demonstrations at the Fall Arts Festival, Spartanburg County Museum of Art, Spartanburg, South Carolina, in 1979 (Nola Campbell, interview, 15 March 1977, BC). As a rule, the appointment means travel and a stipend. Some years earlier, in 1975, a delegation of potters and tribal council members attended an Indian Arts Convention at the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Doris Blue and Nola Campbell were chosen to represent the potters. The event lasted two days, and the potters received a stipend of 100 dollars plus airfare and other expenses. "We went up Friday morning at 8:00. It was my first plane ride, and I prayed hard, but I said I would go, and your word is your bond. We got a bus from the airport to the Hilton Hotel, and we had our clay and tools and boards and a few pots. Doris and I sold two or three. I made some more there in my demonstrations and brought them home. I demonstrated in the morn ings starting at 9:00 for four hours. Doris took the booth in the afternoon" (Nola Campbell, interview, 15 March 1977, BC).


In May 1978, the Catawba Indian Potters' Association had its greatest triumph. The fledgling group participated in a small exhibit/sale at the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery titled "Tribal Pottery of the Catawba Indians." The event lasted from May 4 to 31, 1979 (Galleries File, 1978, BC). As part of the show, Georgia Harris provided demonstrations for three days (4-6 May) (Craft Demonstrations, 1978, BC). The demonstrations opened the show and were designed to draw those interested in Native American pottery into the gallery. Georgia Harris hoped her efforts would help make the sale aspect a success. She worked before large crowds of visitors. For much of these three days, she dazzled the crowds by making large vessels for which she was justly known. Most were made with rolls (coils) of clay (Galleries File, BC). The majority of the audience had never seen this technique but had read about it. Often spectators went straight from the demonstration hall on the second floor to the shop on the first floor to make a purchase. Georgia Harris's reception in Washington meant a lot to the potters back home who had already begun to emulate her. Georgia Harris's position as the Catawba Nation's greatest contemporary potter was strengthened.

The Smithsonian called a delegation of Catawba potters back again in the summer of 1996 for the annual Festival of American Folklife. Nola Campbell, master potter and a demonstrator who was the best at performing before large and small audiences, led the group. Monty and Anna Branham accompanied her. The idea was that Monty, a new generation master potter, would benefit tremendously from working closely with Nola Campbell for two weeks. Anna Branham, a master at the art of beadwork, demonstrated her beadwork and helped answer visitors' questions regarding the Catawba Indians of South Carolina.

The trio was housed in the American South Section. They quickly became a star attraction. For the Catawba it was the triumphs of the 1913 Corn Show all over again. Nola Campbell dazzled large audiences with her demonstration skills. She constructed large vessels through the use of rolls. Once she had a piece built to her satisfaction she searched the audience for a child aged five to eight. Very tenderly, she would call the child up to her table and say in a low voice, "Honey, will you smash this pot for me?" The chosen child always performed the task with vigor, and the audience always gasped in horror to see the destruction of a masterpiece. The Branhams, along with their demonstrations, also participated in Native American music programs.

Once I asked Nola Campbell why she never tried to save her demonstration pieces. She responded that she worked with greater speed than she normally would and didn't trust a demonstration piece to the dangers of the fire (Nola Campbell, interview, 4 July 1996, BC).

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  • corey
    When did catawba indian pottery began?
    9 years ago
  • Chiaffredo Rossi
    How did catawba indians make a living?
    8 years ago
  • Tiziano
    How to do rubbings on indian potterry pieces?
    6 years ago

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