Gillsville potter Harold Hewell was known by the nickname “Bull” because he was so strong and prolific he could produce a room full of wares in a day.
Hewell, the patriarch of one of Georgia’s oldest pottery-making clans, with seven generations having passed down knowledge of the craft since 1850, died this month at 85.
In John Burrison’s “Brothers in Clay: The Story of Georgia Folk Pottery,” the definitive tome on the state’s grass-roots tradition, Hewell spoke about the early expectations of his father, Maryland “Bud” Hewell: “I think he had it in mind he wanted all [three of] his boys to be potters ... and we’ve all kept our hands in the business. We must have been born with clay in our veins.”
That has remained true of the three generations that have followed Harold Hewell into the family business, Hewell’s Pottery in Gillsville, 12 miles east of Gainesville. All the Hewell potters to some extent took lessons from Harold, who threw terra-cotta garden pots and farm wares such as pitchers, jugs and churns (usually fired with an alkaline glaze that gave them a characteristic olive-green finish) with almost impossibly symmetrical precision.
“Harold was a fine craftsman of the old school, a master of clay at the potter’s wheel who could throw pots of five and six gallons with seeming effortlessness to produce superbly refined, useful wares,” Georgia State University folklorist Burrison told the AJC.
Chester Hewell, whose own pottery-making has been slowed but not stopped by a stroke late last year, once recounted the output of his father in his heyday: “He could make enough stuff to keep two [assistants] busy, one preparing balls [of clay] and the other filling the racks. I’ve seen him make 1,000 gallons in one day, and part of it was in [labor-intensive] Rebecca pitchers and wash pots.”
Many full-time production potters would strain to throw 1,000 gallons of pottery in a week.
Harold Hewell, a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II, was low-key by nature — “a true Southern gentleman,” Burrison said — and not a self-promoter. But Chester Hewell was so proud of his father’s work ethic that he hesitated when Burrison and others sought to include Harold (and the rest of the family, including Harold’s wife of 62 years, Grace Nell) in the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia, which opened in 2006 at the Sautee Nacoochee Center near Helen. Chester, who eventually relented, felt his dad was in a league of his own.
“There are other [folk] potters who have full-time jobs and then they do pottery in their spare time,” Harold Hewell’s grandson Matthew once explained. “But this ain’t a matter of an 8-to-5 job for us — it’s a way of life.”
New Commerce festival
More than 60 folk-style and studio artists will be presented at the Folk to Fine Arts Festival and Expo, a three-day event launching Friday at the Commerce Civic Center. Among the participating artists are painter John “Cornbread” Anderson and potter Roger Corn. Stan “Potteryman” Clark, a fixture at Folk Fest every summer, will be among the vendors.
5-10 p.m. Friday ($15, includes light reception and weekend readmission), 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. March 4 ($7 each day). 110 State St., Commerce. 706-335-2954, www.folk-finearts.com.
Spelman to Havana
Spelman College Museum of Fine Art Director Andrea Barnwell Brownlee has been selected to co-curate an exhibit in May at the Havana Biennial.
It marks the first time in its 28-year history that the Cuban contemporary art exhibition has selected a U.S. curatorial team to exhibit.
Brownlee will join Valerie Cassel Oliver, senior curator at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, in remounting the exhibit “Cinema Remixed & Reloaded: Black Women Artists and the Moving Image Since 1970.”
The 2007 show documented two generations of women artists of the African Diaspora working in film and video.
In Havana, the reconfigured show will feature eight artists, including Berni Searle, Lorna Simpson and Carrie Mae Weems.
Information: www.spelmanmuseum.org (click: Upcoming Exhibitions).