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October Issue 2003

SC State Museum in Columbia, SC, Features Pottery from Laurens County

Everybody thinks of Edgefield when the subject of South Carolina pottery is discussed, but in the 19th and early 20th centuries, people everywhere needed stoneware, and there were potters and pottery areas across the state where it was made.

In Columbia, SC, that fact is amply demonstrated in the South Carolina State Museum's new exhibit Jugware: Johnson Family Stoneware from Laurens County, which in on view in the Recent Acquisitions Gallery on the museum's fourth floor through Apr. 4, 2004.

The exhibit features work from the only Laurens County pottery, run by Joe "Jug" Johnson and his brother Harvey, and spans the years 1878 to 1933. Unlike contemporary studio pottery and ceramic sculpture created today, this work is "utilitarian pottery, such as storage jugs and jars, pitchers, churns and a poultry fountain," says Paul Matheny, the museum's art curator.

Some of the jugs were sold to store whiskey, cider, wine or water, and jars even stored meat, or were used to make sauerkraut, pickles or home-brewed beer and wine, Matheny says. "Typically, it was utilitarian pottery made to be used in kitchens and smokehouses to survive in the back country. It was not necessarily made to look good, but it does. It's some of the most gorgeous pottery made in the state by form and glaze application. The Johnson family exceeded all expectations of how attractive everyday pottery could be."

Though their products were not designed to be decorative, the Johnsons nevertheless were one of the only potter families to consistently decorate their pottery, with line and swag patterns and cobalt banding. Line and swag decorations were scratched into the wet surface of the clay before it was fired. Cobalt banding featured a cobalt underglaze of slip (wet clay) brushed onto the surface before the pot was put into the fire. While this becomes a decorative feature, the original intent was to make their pottery more distinctive.

The Johnsons also employed a number of itinerant potters, whose work is included. Of particular interest is the work of Maryland "Bud" Hewell, whose family ran a pottery in Gillsville, GA, and still does, and Albert Fulbright who worked in several potteries across the state and is believed to have introduced cobalt glaze and slip to the South.

This exhibit is also the first exhibit to include a large portion of pottery from the Holcombe family in Clinton, SC, who have been collecting and preserving South Carolina's tangible history for almost four decades. Living in Laurens County, the Johnson pottery has always been of particular interest to the Holcombes, and this passion is evident with the family's dedication to the project.

Matheny says Edgefield may be the big name in South Carolina pottery, but Laurens took a back seat to no one when it came to quality stoneware that was attractive as well as useful.

For more information check our SC Institutional Gallery listings, call the museum at 803/898-4921, or on the web at (www.museum.state.sc.us).

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