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Crossroads of Clay

Alkaline-glazed stoneware figural bottle, attr. to Jim Lee

The Crossroads of Clay project began in 1981, under the direction of Dr. George D. Terry, then Curator of History and Associate Director of McKissick Museum. The project aimed to research the development and diffusion of the southern alkaline-glazed stoneware potter tradition which virtually died out in South Carolina in the early 1900s. This tradition came together in the Edgefield District of South Carolina and was derived from European, Asian, and African influences. How these influences came together and affected life in the lower South in the nineteenth century is the subject of The Crossroads of Clay project.

The Edgefield District of South Carolina was the cultural hearth of the southern alkaline-glazed stoneware tradition. In the truest sense, Edgefield, South Carolina was a crossroads where European forms and technology, Asian glaze formulas and the distinctive forms and decoration produced by African-Americans commingled.

The alkaline-glazed stoneware tradition of South Carolina influenced stoneware products throughout the South. The relationship of the tradition to the cultural traditions of the lower South may be seen in the migration followed by the Edgefield potters. Their movements have been traced throughout the lower South, into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas, and into the Piedmont region of North Carolina and northern Georgia.

Looking at historical documents which surrounded the origins of this nineteenth century ceramic tradition, researcher Cinda K. Baldwin was able to uncover important facts about the potters, their families, financial responsibilities, and, of course, their products. In addition to historical documents, more than two thousand pieces of alkaline-glazed stoneware, chiefly from the hands of South Carolinians or their descendants, were surveyed, measured, and photographed. These research materials now constitute the largest consolidated collection of information on southern ceramics in the United States.

Research on Edgefield pottery is ongoing. Jill Koverman, the current Curator of Collections at McKissick Museum headed the exhibit, "I Made This Jar: The Life and Works of the Enslaved African-American Potter, Dave." Cinda Baldwin has written "Great and Noble Jar: Traditional Stoneware of South Carolina" and Leonard Todd has written "Carolina Clay: The Life and Legend of the Slave Potter Dave."

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bullet icon Cinda Baldwin gives an overview of Edgefield pottery. (02:48)

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