Friday, September 5, 2008

The Pottery Shop Atop River Hill

Pottery has been a part of Itawamba County’s cultural heritage since the 1800’s. The hills of the eastern part of the county have always been rich with potter’s clay and during the early 1900’s the area boasted of more than a dozen pottery operations with wares such as crocks, churns and jugs being shipped and sold all over the mid-south.

One pottery operation I remember as a child was the Harris pottery works atop River Hill west of the Tombigbee River. The shop was located on the north side of Highway 78 (formerly Bankhead Highway) at the crest of the hill. The business was located in a small wooden structure with an open-air display area enclosed with chicken wire. The potter’s wares would be displayed on wooden platforms elevated by cinder blocks. When I was a child, most of the wares produced here included flower pots, bowls and birdbaths.

It was always a delight traveling with my parents across the Tombigbee River bottom on the concrete highway, then climbing the steep River Hill to visit the pottery works. It was simply amazing to watch the artist working at the potter’s wheel, taking raw Itawamba County clay and shaping beautiful works of art with his hands alone.

The Harris pottery works is long gone, but I’m quite sure its memory lives on in the memories of many Itawambians. Today I have one piece from this operation – a decorative flower pot that was purchased there during the 1950’s. That little flower pot made by hand from the raw clay of Itawamba County reminds me of childhood days, and watching in awe as a county craftsman created his wonderful wares at the potter’s wheel.

Advertisement for the J.J. Harris Pottery from a 1958 Fulton telephone directory.

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