Those old-time potters they'd stick together help each other out; it was a brotherhood of clay,'' said D. X. Gordy, discussing the tradition of potterymaking in his native Georgia, back in 1970.
Now a book has been written on that tradition. For aficionados of folk pottery it is a fascinating book - a sort of living history. Author John A. Burrison traveled throughout Georgia to interview potters, who in this state usually work in family operations that have invested generations of talent in their craft. He also used archival and historical resources.
The book succeeds as a scholarly record. It is less successful in interesting nonscholars and non-Georgians. Nonaficionados will find the prose style dull, scholarly, and overly dependent on those archival materials (extensive use of potters' lists, family lists, maps, historical documents, old photographs, genealogical tables). Yet the story it documents is intriguing.
In our time, when handmade ceramics are produced by individual craftsmen, ceramics has become a ''pure art,'' verging on painting or sculpture.
The Georgians, however, go back to the roots of pottery - ''to what, historically, pottery was all about,'' as the author puts it.
As D. X. Gordy suggested, the key word is ''brotherhood.'' This book mainly traces families of potters. Lanier Meaders of Meaders Pottery in White County is its focus. He is the last of a long line of potters.
''What I like best about making pottery is selling the stuff and getting the money for it,'' he says. ''People now think of pottery as an art form, but for us it was a way of life, our livelihood. It put food on the table.'' This is what pottery is for some Georgia potters.
Burrison traces a dying art, one which began ''as an altruistic experiment, offering the economically depressed a new beginning,'' to help the poor.
Prohibition was the beginning of many reversals for Georgia pottery. Metal and glass containers replaced whiskey jugs.
The rise of commercial dairies in the 1920s reduced the manufacture of milk crocks, ''cream risers,'' churns, and buttermilk pitchers.
World War I offered industrial jobs, pulling rural potters to the cities. The Great Depression dealt the greatest blow, however. There was little cash for pottery, although the barter system kept wares going.
Throughout all its years, Georgia pottery has been decorated with a subtle, sensuous gray or olive-green glaze; the forms are eminently usable, and they exude a soft harmony, a balance, and a peace that gives pleasure.
This book is a fitting tribute to the Georgia folk pottery movement.