Mississippi folk pottery represents a mixture of the two primary American stoneware traditions of the nineteenth century. During the early periods of settlement, potters working in the alkaline-glazing tradition of the Deep South as well as salt-glazing potters from Tennessee and the Ohio Valley came to the state. Pottery-making families such as the Leopards, Loyds, and Mortons moved with the advancing American frontier into Mississippi, where they practiced a cottage industry of stoneware production, providing essential products such as churns, storage jars, bowls, and pitchers for their neighbors. These early potters exploited clays suitable for stoneware, primarily from the eastern Mississippi counties of Winston, Lauderdale, Neshoba, Monroe, and Itawamba. They established lasting “jugtowns” in communities such as Louisville in Winston County, Tremont in Itawamba County, and Lockhart in Lauderdale County.
Most American folk potters used salt to glaze their utilitarian stoneware, a process that requires salt to be thrown into the hot kiln. Early potters such as northern-born Joseph Royal Tanner and Peter Cribbs brought this glaze into northeastern Mississippi long before the Civil War. The resulting gases cause a glass coating to form on the pottery in the kiln. Soon thereafter Tennessee potter William Loyd and family came to the area, also presumably using the salt glaze. The Loyds made stoneware tombstones that can be found the older graveyards of northeastern Mississippi and northwestern Alabama. The family took out a US patent for this tombstone design in 1879 while living in Tremont.
A more distinctly southern style of pottery developed in the Edgefield District of South Carolina, and families from that area such as the Leopards, Presleys, and Rushtons brought their alkaline-glazing tradition into Mississippi. This pottery was dipped into a glaze formula made from clay mixed with either wood ashes or lime. After the ware was fired, this glaze left a shiny green-to-brown finish on the stoneware. These potters also used a type of rectangular kiln known as a groundhog kiln. This style of pottery advanced with the frontier from the Atlantic Ocean to central Texas over two generations. The Leopards were a typical southern pottery-making family, originating in South Carolina before moving to Georgia, then to Alabama, and finally to Winston County before the Civil War. Some members of the family later moved to Rusk County, Texas. Thad Leopard made pottery in Mississippi well into the twentieth century.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century, an expanding railroad system introduced new types of pottery glazes. The brown Albany slip and white feldspar glaze (also known as Bristol glaze) replaced the salt and alkaline glazes. During this time, potters from Europe and northern states worked in Mississippi. The Scottish McAdams family worked near Meridian. Another group of nonsouthern potters was located in Marshall County.
In Mississippi today, only the Stewart family of Louisville still engages in traditional pottery making. Homer Wade Stewart began making pottery in Winston County in 1888, and his grandson, Frank, and great-grandson, Keith, continue the family tradition. Frank and his family received Mississippi Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2000.
- Joey Brackner, Alabama Folk Pottery (2006)
- James R. Cormany, The Potteries of Itawamba and Monroe County, Mississippi: Churn Suppliers to the Mid South (2001)
- Georgeanna Greer, in Made By Hand: Mississippi Folk Art, ed. Patti Carr Black (1980)
- Mississippi Arts Commission website, www.arts.state.ms.us