Jerry Brown, Folk Potter and Friend, 1942- 2016
Jerry Brown, a ninth generation tradition Southern Stoneware Potter died last Friday, March 4, 2016, after a short bout with cancer. Jerry was fiercely loyal to his traditional pottery upbringing. He accepted “new” technology when he found it necessary to achieve what he wanted to do. Jerry was a National Heritage Fellowship winner…the highest honor a traditional artist can receive…that says it all.
Jerry Brown and his wife, Sandra, became a major part of why my wife and I are potters. We met them at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival in Chattanooga, in 1993. We had begun to seriously invest time and energy into leaving the “public work” behind and take the leap of faith to become traditional potters. We wanted to experience pottery from digging clay, processing it, building a kiln, making glazes and firing with wood. Jerry Brown and Sandra help us fulfill that dream.
I suppose our first run in with Jerry Brown’s pottery was on a visit to Bill and Nancy Martin’s place. We were already committed to the traditional methods with the help of another mentor, 5th generation potter, Bobby Ferguson. Bill and Nancy had a face jug and coffee mugs that drew us in like a magnet. it was the first of Jerry's work we'd seen and we were hooked.
Jerry was scheduled to exhibit and demonstrate at National Folk Life Festival which was scheduled to be in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A group of us made the trip to Chattanooga. They went to see Junior Brown, the musician. I made straight shoot to find Jerry Brown, the folk potter.
I arrived at Jerry’s tent as it was trying to blow away in a thunder storm. I helped them secure the tent, and get things under control. Later that weekend he asked me turn a piece on his homemade sit down wheel. He sorta’ laughed at my effort and asked who taught me to turn a jug. He was right, I needed a mentor. He still maintained I was the messiest potter he’d ever seen.
Jerry and I had a lot in common as we were born in the early 40’s. We explored some of those experiences as I spent a few days at their booth. A few weeks later I called and asked if we could come down for a visit. We camped in his cow pasture for a long weekend, and were treated like family. We had a “career changing” experience, and came home with no doubt we were on the right track with two mentors, Jerry and Sandra Brown.
I’d like to thank Sandra, and all the extended family for making Janice and I welcome in our numerous visits to Brown Pottery. Most of all we’d like to thank Jerry for his patience, humor, and his talent and readiness to share with us the experiences that only a ninth generation potter can share.
I hope we gave back some of what we received. Jerry, we’re going to miss you. Janice and I owe you, Sandra and the rest of the Brown family, all nine generations of them, a great debt.