Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Hill Country Story Told in Stone: Connecting the Stoneware Makers

by Terry Thornton
email: hillcountrymonroecounty@gmail.com

This series, A Hill Country Story Told in Stone, usually examines a gravemarker and the person who lies beneath it. Today, however, the story told in stone is a brief look at some of the stoneware makers of the region and how a random churn bought recently at an antique store in Meridian, Mississippi, has helped me to connect two potters whose work I admire ---- Jerry Brown of Hamilton, Alabama, and Keith Stewart of Taylor, Mississippi.

The marked # 4 (for four gallon) churn shown above was sitting on display in the antique store along with many artifacts from the past --- and the churn itself was so draped with textiles (maybe old kitchen aprons once worn to protect the cook's clothes) that I almost didn't even look at it. But the two bands of cobalt blue fired on top of a white slip called me back to the churn for another look. After I removing the aprons displayd across the top of the churn, I could then see it was marked --- Stewart Pottery, Louisville, MS.

And I didn't have a four gallon churn in my small collection of stoneware.

When I found the price sticker I knew the churn was made for me --- and when I got it to the sales registrar I was pleased to receive an additional discount. I paid $27.00 for a churn, a small amount considering the fun I've had reseaching it and being amazed at how potters all over the region seem to be connected through their craft and art.

Here is part of what I've learned about Stewart Pottery of Louisville. Started about 1888 by Homer Stewart and continuing through his sons, grandsons, and at least one great-grandson, the family has continued the tradition of throwing pots. Homer's daughter, Hattie Mae Stewart, married a man from Alabama who worked in her father's pottery --- that man was "Jug" Brown from Sulligent/Detroit. Jug and Hattie's son is the talented Jerry Brown, potter of Hamilton, Alabama.

One of Homer's sons, Gerald Stewart, retired from his job and resumed the family business. When Jerry Brown decided to stop logging and starting potting, it was to his Uncle Gerald he turned for advice.

A grandson of Homer's, Frank Stewart, also continued working in pottery. When Frank's son, Keith, got old enough to help, Keith worked for Gerald in the Stewart Pottery at Louisville during his teenage years and summers. Keith went on to Ole Miss for a degree and set up his own pottery at Taylor, Mississippi.

Here are some pictures of the three pottery pieces --- on the left is a 1993 pitcher produced by Jerry Brown of Hamilton, Alabama. I acquired this small piece at the Itawabama Historical Society's rummage benefit sale in 2009. On the right is a 1993 pitcher produced by Keith Stewart of Taylor, Mississippi, which I bought several months ago at Falkner Antique Mall in Vernon, Alabama.

And in the middle is the four gallon Stewart Pottery churn made in Louisville, Mississippi. So far I haven't found any information which allows me to date the Louisville churn or to attribute it to the specific Stewart who turned and fired it. I don't think it is old enough to be a Homer Stewart piece; more likely it is a Gerald Stewart churn --- but it could be from others of this large and important pottery family of Winston County stoneware makers.

Now I've got to get into the attic and unpack the Keith Stewart chocolate pot and mugs we commissioned him to make for us several years ago --- and I've got to be on the lookout for more Jerry Brown pieces.

If you have information about the Stewart Pottery of Louisville, I'd most appreciate hearing from you. Especially needed is information about dating the churn I have based upon the pottery's marks shown above.

Homer Stewart family of Winston County, Mississippi, as shown on the 1920 census included Homer, 52, wife Leona, 42, and children Tom, 13, Wade, 11, Hettie,7, and Geral, 2 6/12th.

Sources and additional reading:

Stewart Family Census information, 1920 Census of Winston County, Mississippi. Available through Heritage Quest online via the Lee-Itawamba County Library System. Accessed January 11, 2010.

Frank Stewart Potter, Louisville, Mississippi. Mississippi Folklife and Folk Artist Directory. Mississippi Arts Commission. Online at http://www.arts.state.ms.us/folklife/artist.php?dirname=stewart_frank

Gerald Stewart Pottery, from Raised in Clay: The Southern Pottery Tradition by Nancy Sweezy (University of North Carolina Press: 1994). Available for review at Google Books. Accessed January 11, 2010.

Jerry Brown Pottery. Website at http://www.jerrybrownpottery.com/


Mona Robinson Mills said...

Terry, there is also a link between the Stewart family and the Loyd family - both families of potters. As you know the Loyd family had several potters, including William P. Loyd and his son William D. Loyd who patented the beautiful gravemarkers in our Hill Country. William P. Loyd's brother, Lawson Lancelot Loyd, moved to Winston County and started a pottery operation there. His grandson, John Mack Loyd, married into the Stewart family. Like you, I admire Keith Stewart's work, and have a Stewart churn in our collection.

Terry Thornton said...

Thanks, Mona, for this information. Interesting how the potters all seem to be connected by occupation and marriage. I had no idea that my Stewart churn would connect to so many Hill Country pottery makers.

Terry Thornton
Fulton, Mississippi