One of the first stops I made in Alabama last year was to a local Visitor’s Center. After all, I just had to know what this state had to offer. One of the guides mentioned a potter by the name of Jerry Brown that had pieces on display in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. Intrigued, I knew this was one stop we would certainly make and when I discovered that one of the homeschool groups had planned a field trip to his country studio, I was really hoping we’d still be around to attend. So when March rolled around and we were still here, I was thrilled to sign up!
Jerry Brown Pottery is located in Northwest Alabama in a small rural community called Hamilton. The kids and I drove right around two hours to get there, missed the road we were supposed to turn on, drove out into the middle of nowhere, literally! Thought we’d never make it back to civilization, realized our error (well, my error) and made it just in time for the show to start!
Jerry Brown was born into a pottery making, clay firing family. In fact, he’s a 9th generation potter. He told us that he was working in his dad’s shop before he was old enough to go to school! One day, his own son will takeover the family business and the Brown legacy, built upon unique folk art creations will continue.
Our tour of the studio began with a demonstration. Mr. Brown effortlessly molded three lumps of clay into a usable vessel waiting to be fired in minutes on his pottery wheel that was made from the rim of an old car and powered by a go cart motor. It was fascinating to watch the clay transform before our eyes.
Though the Brown’s once fired their pieces in a wood burning kiln, that was just a bit too tedious and labor intensive so they now use a natural gas fired brick lined kiln. Running the kiln is a bit tricky because the pieces need to be heated slowly and cooled slowly so they aren’t damaged. It normally takes about 15-16 hours to fire each piece. We also learned that the kiln will get so hot that the bricks will turn white.
The clay used in all of the pieces is found locally and processed by Blue, their friendly 20- year old, well-cared for mule. Blue was a hit with everyone when she demonstrated turning the clay and grinding the lumps out. It takes her about 2-3 hours to process 2,500 pounds of clay. Though this step removes the majority of lumps and impurities, it still requires a few more steps before it can be turned into the art piece you’ll see in the studio.
The studio is full of the best selling Face Jugs, gallons jugs, popcorn bowls, bacon crisper’s, egg separators, mixing bowls, coffee mugs, whimsical piggy banks and much more. Since I’m a nut when it comes to handcrafted pieces, I couldn’t leave without purchasing one or…two items…after all, who could resist the folk art Face Jugs?
This was a great first stop on our Road Trip to Ohio and along the way the kids and I discussed what we learned and enjoyed about the trip. My oldest son shared with me that he really wanted to try his hand at making some pottery pieces of his own. I was thrilled. The field trip had done just what I’d intended. It had piqued an interest. After all, isn’t that what field trips are all about? Exposing our children and ourselves to new things? Hopefully developing a deeper understanding or appreciation of the subject matter?
If you’re ever in the area, I’d highly recommend adding Jerry Brown Pottery to your list of stops and if at all possible, call ahead for a tour. You won’t be sorry! Oh, and for my RV friends, you won’t fit in his parking lot, but there is plenty of parking along the road.
Well, stay tuned because I for one am really eager to see what pottery creations my children will come up with as they give the wheel a try.