|Pettus Smith, Pottery Maker|
|Pettus Smith, Pottery Maker|
Pottery is a Smith family tradition. It was 1918 when E. B. Smith began making pottery in his blacksmith shop in Perry County, and today, it is his grandson, Pettus "Smitty" Smith who is continuing the family tradition just outside of Clanton.
"There’s not a lot of money in it," Smith said, "but there’s a lot of satisfaction."
Unfortunately, Smith had to take about a year’s hiatus from pottery because of health reasons, but he’s now enjoying getting back into the business.
Smith’s wife since 1957, Clara, said people often ask her why she doesn’t do pottery, and she simply replies that the shop isn’t big enough for two.
It was only after retiring from Goodyear in 1988 that Smith built his shop. Originally, he processed his own clay just as his father and grandfather had, digging clay from the earth with an old-fashioned mudmill pulled by a tractor. Though he now purchases all of his clay from a distributor, there are still elements of the old tradition alive in Smith’s shop.
Along with several pieces of pottery crafted by his father, Smith also has his father’s old kick wheel, though he says he’s "not too hot on it." Smith uses an electric potter’s wheel and an electric kiln. He uses his father’s ball opener on the electric wheel to make the insides of the pots smooth and even.
After pottery is dried and glazed, it’s heated in the kiln to at least 2,200 degrees.
"But aren’t you glad you don’t have to punch a time clock?" his wife replied, laughing.
All of the pottery Smith makes can be used safely in cooking. The containers can be washed in a dishwasher and even used on a grill.
Some popular sellers have been dough bowls, pie plates, chicken bakers and cornbread makers, but what Smith is selling a lot of right now is old-fashioned butter keepers.
Smith said his favorite item to make is simply what’s selling at the moment. Since he’s just been able to get back into pottery making in the past few weeks, he’s got several butter keepers drying and awaiting glaze on his countertop.
Much of what Smith makes comes from needs Clara has in the house, but sometimes people request strange items to be made. Smith said he thinks the strangest thing he’s been requested to make is a manicure bowl for storing manicure tools and dipping fingers in liquid.
In the peak years of Smith’s pottery making, since 1990, he and his wife often participated in about 12 arts and crafts shows every year. One of their favorites was Kentuck in Northport — the largest arts and crafts show in Alabama. It was there Smith’s picture was taken and published in Smithsonian magazine.
Smith has customers from as far as away as Oregon, Alaska and England.
"I’ve met some of the nicest people going to those shows," Smith said. "For me, that’s the best part."
Out in Smith’s pottery shop, just about everything seems to be covered in clay. To some it may seem dirty, but to Smith it’s all too familiar. And to the "wiggle tails" (mosquito larvae), bumble bees and dirt daubers, it’s the perfect place to call home.
The Smiths’ property was once home to Hereford cattle and horses, so the Smiths have been longtime customers of Mid-State Farmers Co-op in Clanton. They buy dog food for their two dogs, Lupus and Lady, plants, clothes, and other supplies.
"Everything that we can, we buy from there instead of at Wal-Mart," Clara said.
Their acreage was once used also to grow vegetables, corn and peanuts, so fertilizer was one product they needed often.
Smith said he just got to be friends with everyone at the Co-op, including manager Eddy Lockhart and assistant manager Mark Arledge. "They haven’t farmed a lot in a while," Lockhard said, "but they get a lot of things from us to help keep up their yard work."
Arledge said he’s know of Smith and his pottery reputation for about 25 years, but has known him personally for about six years. "(Smith) does things that folks just dream about anymore," Arledge said. "He’s made clay products for as long as he’s been able. He makes some really neat things, and some really unique things. I got one of the best chicken cookers in the world from him."
The Smiths love to welcome visitors and customers to their shop. In the past, the Smiths have welcomed all types of customers, even by the busload. Groups of senior citizens, church groups, Boy Scouts and homeschoolers have all visited Smith’s pottery shop.
Smith loves to be able to give visitors their first glimpse of pottery making. Usually, he said, only about one person in a large group has ever seen a pottery wheel in action.
One of his favorite things is when a church group comes to visit, and someone reads the passage in the Bible about the potter and the clay. When the reading gets to the part where the clay is torn up, Smith will let the piece he is making on the wheel fall apart.
None of what the Smiths sell is very expensive.
"He puts his prices down too low," Clara said. "Everybody tells him that."
The price of pottery has gone up over the years, of course, and Smith is quick to point out that his father once sold five-gallon jugs for just a dollar.
As the parents of two boys and two girls, the Smiths now have four grandchildren and hope that some of the younger generations of the family will continue the Smith family pottery tradition.
"I’ve worked in it all my life," Smith said. "If I quit I’d feel like I was missing something."
Anyone interested in visiting Smith’s pottery shop can do so by calling Clara and Pettus Smith at (205) 755-4442.