Goodbye, Jerry Brown

Just this year, we have lost Thorton Dial, Nelle Harper Lee, and now another Alabama treasure, Jerry Brown. A 9th-generation potter, Jerry was the only one known in the country to still have a mule-powered pug mill.

We visited Jerry many times at his shop in Hamilton, at Kentuck, and at the Hamilton art festival that was named in his honor. When our boys were little, he even took them *inside* his walk-in kiln.

In the ’90s, one of my dearest friends was the first to ever ask him to make a female face jug. Sure enough, he put eyelashes on, and…:

Not all these are Jerry Browns, but I have some of them on this shelf:
Face Jugs//

Inside the big fish in the middle of the shelf:
Jerry Brown Man in FIsh// reported:
“Molding Hearts, Hands & Minds” program created by the Northwest Alabama Arts Council, which involves fourth-grade students studying the Alabama History curriculum who are selected each year to come to the pottery shop. With Brown’s assistance, they make their own piece of pottery, which is then displayed at the festival. Children from every school in Marion County have participated in this program over the past decade.

NEA statement:
Washington, DC—It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the death of 1992 National Heritage Fellow Jerry Brown, a potter from Hamilton, Alabama. Brown was a ninth generation potter whose craft honored both traditional forms such as churns, crocks, pitchers, and bowls as well as continued the family’s line of humorous face jugs.

When Jerry was young, he and his brother Jack watched their father make pottery in his shop near Sulligent in Lamar County, Alabama. Family tragedies led Jerry to give up pottery for 20 years and work as a logger in the pulpwood industry. During a slack time in the logging business, Brown returned to pottery, finalizing plans to build a pottery shop in 1981. Using his memory of what his father had taught him, and with help from an uncle, Brown put together the necessary elements for making pottery including a mule-drawn mill for mixing newly dug clay.

A survey of Alabama’s folk pottery tradition undertaken by the Montgomery Museum of Art led to an exhibition featuring Brown and other potters from northwestern Alabama. The highly successful exhibition helped broaden the market for Brown’s work, allowing him to eventually pursue pottery full time.

In addition to his NEA National Heritage Award, the Alabama State Council on the Arts awarded him the 2003 Alabama Folk Heritage Award. That same year, the Jerry Brown Arts Festival, a juried arts festival, launched in Hamilton, and continues to garner awards by the Southeast Tourism Society as a Top Twenty Event.