What started with four pieces of pottery inherited from a relative years ago has now turned into a collection and a love of Southern pottery for library specialist Paula Smith. She is sharing her passion with the campus community through an exhibit of some of her pottery pieces in the Gunnin Architecture Library in Lee Hall.
Smith said she had the four “old jugs” for years before she started going to auctions and antique stores to purchase more pieces.
“I realized there was a lot of pottery out there, I started seeing more of it and then started bidding on it. The next thing I knew, I was obsessed,” she said. “Then my husband became obsessed with it. Before we knew it, we had amassed a collection.”
Smith then started researching the history behind pottery, and her interest only grew, especially in Southern pottery.
She learned how people — often enslaved people — made pottery for food storage, a tradition that nearly died out when glass jars became more widely available for canning and food storage.
“It was the Tupperware of the early 19th century,” she said. “But a lot of times, the people who owned the pottery were not actually the ones turning the pottery.”
Smith said she has never counted the number of pieces in her collection, she just knows “it’s a lot.” She wanted to create the exhibit to share her collection because of the ceramics program in the Department of Art, where students learn some of the pottery-making techniques of the past.
Smith’s exhibit includes pieces and information from different eras of history, from Native American traditions to Edgefield pottery produced in South Carolina in the 1800s all the way up to pieces produced by Clemson students. The display showcases different types of glazes used and various designs, including “face jugs,” jugs created to look like human faces. The exhibit also includes one of those four original pieces she inherited all those years ago.
The exhibit will be on display in the Gunnin Architecture Library through mid-January.