For nearly fifty years, potters Pup and Lee McCarty transformed the earth of Mississippi and its plants into clays and glazes through their work near Merigold. Perhaps it is the element of natural beauty mixed with the couple’s creative spirit that attracts so many to the pottery. Their products are neither dull and uncultivated nor overly refined; rather, they combine rusticity and grace, making them suitable for everyday use, special gifts, or art exhibitions.
Born in 1923, Lee McCarty grew up in Merigold, while his wife, Erma “Pup” Rone McCarty, was born in 1923 and raised in Ethel. The two met at Delta State College and married in the 1940s. They later moved to Oxford and enrolled in pottery classes at the University of Mississippi, and Lee McCarty taught art at a high school run by the university. The McCartys soon decided to devote their lives to art. In 1954 they moved to Merigold, where they bought a mule farm and converted a barn into their living space and studio. The space formerly overlooked by the hayloft is now a lush Mondrian-inspired garden filled with vegetable and ornamental plants. McCarty vases, handcrafted seashells, and wind chimes are visible among the greenery, bamboo, flowers, and birdbaths.
McCarty clay comes from the couple’s land near Macon. The pottery is thrown on a Soldner pottery wheel the couple bought in 1949 and is fired in an electric local reduction kiln without pollutants, lead, or gas. The glazes have unique names such as matte nutmeg, tea, and waterbottom. The pieces include vases, plates, bowls, wind chimes, angels, and an assortment of animals, including birds, rabbits, cats, pigs, hippopotamuses, and fish. Lee McCarty has said that he and Pup tried to employ the colors of the Mississippi Delta in their work.
The pottery is known worldwide. The McCartys showed their work at the Smithsonian Museum, the Hamlin Museum in Germany, and the Paris offices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization as well as in Japan, at the Samuel P. Horn Museum at the University of Florida, and at the Lauren Rogers Museum in Laurel, Mississippi.
Describing their work, art historian Lisa Howorth observes, “A McCarty piece . . . seems to suggest all the rawness and earthliness and endurance of Mississippi.” Since Pup McCarty’s death on 8 February 2009 and Lee McCarty’s passing on 7 September 2015, their godchildren, Stephen and Jamie Smith, have carried on the McCarty Pottery tradition.
- Lana Lawrence Draper, Delta Magazine (July 2003)
- McCarty’s Pottery website, www.mccartyspottery.com
- Rex Jones, dir., So Wonderfully Connected, vimeo.com/39734799 (2012)