I LOVE a small town. Always have. Walking down an old Main Street brings about an inexplicable nostalgia that gives me all the warm fuzzies. I might be partial to my home state, but small towns in South Carolina are even sweeter because of the people and personalities you come across.
For instance, on the morning of my trip to Edgefield, I couldn’t find the pottery museum (I’m notoriously bad at directions) so, I pulled up by a random business that had its door open and walked in to find two employees chatting over their morning coffee. They were so helpful and welcoming. They let me use their restroom and then pointed me in the right direction. It was a simple kindness they offered me, but their generosity set the tone for my day and exemplified the easy charm and hospitality we so often claim in the Palmetto State. It’s real people!
Edgefield’s downtown is the definition of quaint, from the colorful shop windows to the old-school barbershop to the turkey statues scattered throughout the square. Yes, you did read that correctly. Edgefield is home to the National Wild Turkey Federation, and therefore the town honors the stars of Thanksgiving with colorful commemorations on several street corners. They’re quirky, yet act as a perfect addition to the town’s decor.
While I definitely wasn’t going to miss out on the opportunity to explore the town square or eat at a local restaurant like the Old Edgefield Grill (I recommend the famous “OEG” Burger with pimento cheese and fried green tomatoes), my reason for coming to Edgefield was pottery. Fun fact: South Carolina has three unique art forms—Gullah Sweetgrass Baskets in the Lowcountry, Catawba Pottery in the northern reaches of the state, and the subject of today’s visit: Edgefield Pottery.
In search of a more durable container for both solid and liquid sustenance, Dr. Abner Landrum used local materials to create Edgefield Pottery more than 200 years ago. The food-safe stoneware was an essential household commodity before it was displaced by the mason jars we’re so familiar with today. But Master Potter Justin Guy still works to keep the art form alive through both his craft and storytelling at Old Edgefield Pottery and Museum.
A few facts that stood out from my visit. To achieve the unique properties of Edgefield Pottery, it takes clay from three different areas of the state, and it's a six-month process, from digging up the clay to firing and cooling the pots, to create a finished piece. Even more fascinating were the stories of the most famous of the Edgefield potters, a slave named Dave Drake whose works today are sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Another interesting aspect of the Old Edgefield Pottery experience—you won’t see a “Do Not Touch” sign anywhere. After hearing the history of the art form, visitors to the museum are invited to handle the various pieces on display, which kind of threw me for a loop. But in a cool way!
After my quick history lesson and viewing the finished products, Justin showed me some of the basics of operating the potter’s wheel. One of the hardest parts was getting the rhythm of the foot pedal down and remembering to keep my elbows on my knees. Pro potter tip: Don’t wear clothes you are fond of—you are going to get messy!
I’ll be completely transparent here, y’all. The first attempt did not go well. About three minutes in, the cereal bowl I was trying to shape collapsed. The second try proved to be the (lucky) charm. It actually resembled something that might potentially function as a bowl, and I was pretty delighted with the outcome. Regardless of my artistic talents, or lack thereof, it was inspiring to hold a piece of pottery I created with my own hands following a tradition dating back two centuries.
I loved my day in Edgefield and I look forward to visiting again and discovering more of its magic. South Carolina is full of charming small towns, unique experiences and kind people who make it so worth venturing off the beaten path. For all of us looking for something new to experience, be it crafting a pot or having a conversation with someone new, why not go for it?
Filming for this show was done in part prior to Covid-19 and SCPRT recommends following local guidelines for social distancing and your personal protection. Some of the activities depicted in the “Go For It’ series might be affected, or even unavailable, due to Covid-19. Please check with the local provider or attraction for the latest schedules and hours of operation.