Potter of the Month: Bill Harris
Every month we will feature a new Catawba potter.
Although I worked as a furniture maker and a woodcarver for many years, I always knew that someday I would return to my Catawba roots as a maker of Native American pots. Georgia Harris, my Catawba grandmother and a 1996 ‘National Endowment of the Arts’ winner, was among the best potters in known Catawba history. As a young man in the early 1970’s, I accompanied her to the secret tribal clay holes to gather the “correct” clay for making pots. She showed me how to process the clay so that it could be formed, coil by coil, into the traditional pot forms of our people. She taught me how and when to rub the pots with river rocks to produce the characteristic soft patina and smooth surface of Catawba pottery. Together we tempered her pots in an open fire, where smoke from pine bark created unpredictable patterns of black and grey. When she died, I inherited an old tin box filled with the sea shells, rocks, broken spoons and knives that she had used for 75 years to make her pots -- primitive tools that I now use to make my own Catawba pottery. I inherited from her a set of handmade clay molds that form the distinctive King Haigler head shape that decorated her pots for so many years, and now decorates mine. She has been gone for over a decade, but when I watch my hands working the clay, I see her hands. And when I rake my own pots out of the still-burning coals, I remember her excitement at this, ,the most treacherous point in the life journey of a pot, and I feel her presence and the presence of my ancestors.