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Letter to the Editor

Writer Fears PTC Will Close Pottery Program in Edgefield

web posted March 13, 2012

Many people ask themselves the esoteric question, “Who am I? Where did I come from?”  We typically come up with answers based off of our upbringing (where our ancestors came from, the rules that governed our youth).  We possess memories of these events that shape us into unique individuals.

Another question that begs to be answered is “Who are we? Where did we come from?”  We have a historical knowledge base, typical information covered in high school social studies, as one way to answer these questions.  Today we live in such diverse communities that it becomes difficult to answer the intricacies of these questions because we are made up of so many different groups, a melting pot if you will.  We see an ever-growing expanse and blending of communities everywhere.  While we see much growth all around us, we also see the decline in other areas such as small town USA.  Many of these small communities experience the reduction of their population as the youth moves away to attend university and to find employment.  If these communities continue to contract, the culture that identifies these areas will also diminish.

Small town cultures typically revolve around a history or trade that is traditional to  that specific community.  My home lies just outside a small town in South Carolina called Edgefield.  This community is well known for its pottery.  Watching a cable auction show one night, I was surprised when I heard the auctioneer announce that he would be selling an Edgefield Face Jug.  This particular piece sold for a very high bid as the auctioneer identified the piece as a rare find.  Part of why this piece is considered so valuable is that it is rare and that replacement supply would not be forthcoming.

Pottery is not a part of a community’s history that can be studied in a book. Oh yes, you can read about how Edgefield is known for pottery and what type and what techniques were used.  But pottery is a trade that must be passed from generation to generation through apprenticeship thus becoming part of the community’s culture. 

Edgefield happens to have a premier pottery program through a local technical college (Piedmont Technical College www.ptc.edu).  The community and local philanthropists have supported this program.  Seems like a strange place to have such a vast pottery program you might ponder.  However, when you consider that the loss of the local knowledge of Edgefield pottery would conclude an important aspect of the culture of this small town and without the culture of the small town, the town of Edgefield, South Carolina becomes just a small town with no distinct identity.

This community is fortunate to have a young instructor, Justin Guy (www.guypottery.com), who has studied for 17 years under vast master instructors and traveled throughout the world to learn various styles and techniques.  Despite this vast knowledge base, Justin identifies his roots in the Edgefield community as a strong influence in his pottery style and overall pottery interest.

Unfortunately, the powers that be have chosen not to renew this young instructor’s contract for the next semester.  As a matter of fact, the entire program is at risk as there is no identified replacement instructor hired either according to the administrators of the Pottery program.  Should the school decide to eliminate the pottery program, Edgefield will be at even greater risk of losing one very important tie to the cultural identity that forms this small town into a unique community.

Should the pottery program close, those of us currently studying at PTC will find other places to learn pottery techniques and practice this art form but to not study in Edgefield and to not study under someone who holds this aspect of the Edgefield pottery values at high standard means that even Edgefield Potters will begin to import outside influences thus watering down this cultural aspect of the community until finally there is nothing of the rich history of Edgefield’s specific culture left.

Laurie Hallman

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