The Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia showcases the handcraft skills of one of the South's premier grassroots art forms, and explores the historical importance and changing role of folk pottery in southern life.
Northeast Georgia's pottery tradition is nationally known. The Meaders family of White County was featured in Allen Eaton's 1937 book,
Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands, and was honored with a special event at the Library of Congress in 1978, when the Smithsonian
Institution's documentary film on the Meaders Pottery was released.
Shown here is a Lanier Meaders face jug.
In the year 2000, northeast Georgia received a Library of Congress "Local Legacies" designation for its pottery heritage. The tradition also has been featured in magazines, books, videos, exhibits, and festivals such as the Southern Crossroads Marketplace at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Until now there's been no institution devoted to Northeast Georgia folk pottery, not even in its home area. Dean and Kay Swanson, former owners of the Standard Telephone Company, have committed to erect this museum as their way of giving back to the people of the area. Collector and folk potter Michael Crocker helped assemble the core collection.
The Northeast Georgia Folk Pottery Museum and its extensive collection of pottery dating from the 1840s will be a gift from Dean and Kay Swanson, retired community and business leaders who want to preserve their treasures and share them with all who can enjoy and learn from them. The Swansons had a modest home collection of pottery in 1999, when they visited with potter and local historian Michael Crocker at his studio and were inspired to expand their interests in the folk art tradition. At Michael Crocker's suggestion, the Swansons acquired a significant private collection of 40 items that led them to build the present inventory of more than 150 pieces.
A major reason to build the Folk Pottery Museum is to provide a space where all these items can be seen at one time, complemented by audio-visual presentations, programs, demonstrations by local potters, seminars and special tours. Dr. John Burrison, Georgia State University folklorist and author of 1983's "Brothers in Clay: the Story of Georgia Folk Pottery," serves as Curator of the Swanson collection and the new Museum. He notes that "Northeast Georgia is one of the few areas of the United States with a living, and thriving, tradition of folk pottery, one that increasingly attracts the interest of folk-art collectors and scholars. The Museum will interpret both the artistic and historic dimensions of this heritage, offering a unique understanding of the importance of craftsmanship in the lives of ordinary Southerners of both the past and present."
According to Dr. Burrison's research, north Georgia's pottery tradition was, and still is, concentrated in two communities near the Sautee-Nacoochee Valley location of the new Museum: Mossy Creek south of Cleveland in White County and Gillsville, just north of Gainesville. Mossy Creek has been home to more than eighty folk potters since the 1820s. Foremost among them are Cheever and Lanier Meaders, who carried on the 19th-century tradition of ash- and lime-glazed stoneware. Lanier became nationally famous in the 1970s for his face jugs, and his success encouraged other north Georgians with traditional pottery backgrounds to return to the craft. Visitors enthused after a visit to the Folk Pottery Museum will find a variety of shops and galleries nearby to follow up their interests.
"Education and preservation are our main goals," says Museum benefactor Kay Swanson, who fondly recalls her first exposure to northeast Georgia folk potters as a child while accompanying her dad on what he called "over the mountain rambles" in his 1939 Dodge. "Sometimes we take for granted that these things will be here for our grandchildren," she concludes, "and we shouldn't."