For years in the Great Smoky Mountains, and Appalachia as a whole, pottery has played an important role in the lives of people who’ve lived in our beautiful mountains. Before the rise of industry and machines took the world by storm, making your own vessels was far easier since the mountains made it difficult to get into town, as well as provided a cheaper option than buying one that was already made.

Even though the impact of industrialization can still be felt today, folk potters still exist and are still creating vessels in the same way that they have for generations. Read below to find out more about what unique features of the amazing, handmade pottery of the Smoky Mountains have been kept alive by these great potters for hundreds of years.

3 Unique Features of Smoky Mountain Pottery

Feature 1. The Custom Crafted Clay Used to Make Handmade Smoky Mountain Pottery

If you’re going to talk about the unique features of handmade Smoky Mountain pottery, you’ve got to talk about the clay first. Clay is formed through a process of mixing together pulverized rock and water, and most of the rocks that are used in this type of pottery come from the mountains. According to the National Parks Service, most of the rocks in the Great Smoky Mountains are sedimentary and were formed by accumulations of clay, silt, sand, gravel, and minor amounts of calcium carbonate in flat-lying layers. This assortment of sediment from the Smokies makes for a pottery clay that can come in a variety of colors from a terra cotta red to a light gray.

What makes the process of creating this type of clay for a piece of handmade Smoky Mountain pottery unique is the way in which the materials are harvested. Those who live in the mountains truly understand their beauty and only take what’s needed from them. The rocks used to make the clay tell a story of a landmass that has been around for millions of years, as does the river water that is mixed in with it. You could say that when you purchase a piece of handcrafted Smoky Mountain pottery, you’re taking a piece of those very mountains home with you.

Feature 2. The Wide Shapes and Slip Trail Designs of Handmade Smoky Mountain Pottery

If you’ve ever bought or seen a piece of handmade Smoky Mountain pottery, you’ve likely noticed a few key details about the shape and design of this specific style of ceramic. Each of these features tells a unique story about Smoky Mountain pottery.

Next are the designs. The designs on these pieces can also catch the eye, as they appear to have been embossed onto the vessel itself. This is a technique known as slip trail, which is a process in ceramics created by squeezing lines of thick, liquid clay or slurry onto a wet or leather-hard clay surface using a squeeze-bulb or tube applicator (if you like learning about different pottery terms and techniques, check out this other article[DG1] ). Modern potters have access to a variety of tools [DG2] and techniques that many Appalachian settlers didn’t. Slip trail was an easy way to decorate or label vessels without the use of many tools. So really, these telling features of a handmade piece of Smoky Mountain Pottery are testaments to the creativity and resourcefulness of the original Appalachian potters.

Feature 3- The Melted Effect of Hand-Dipped Glaze on Smokey Mountain Pottery

Typically, in Smoky Mountain pottery, glazes are applied to pieces by dipping them directly into the pigment for a melted effect and are usually done with one or two colors. The glazes themselves are handmade by mixing a variety of pigments and other materials to give the vessel a certain finish and texture.

It’s a process that has been considerably modified from the original practice that was first used in Appalachian pottery. Before, potters would create glazed pigments by using natural dyes found in insect shells, animal products, leaves, crops, and minerals. Today, Smoky Mountain potters still use their surroundings to create their glaze pigments, but instead of using it through physical materials, they use it as inspiration. Potters may try to replicate natural-made glaze pigments so that they can use them repeatedly for future works. Or they may be inspired by a certain place in the Smokies, a type of tree, or even a time of year. See what pieces of the Smokies have inspired our handmade glazes here.

Find Your Smoky Mountain Story at Fowler’s Clay Works

At Fowler’s Clay Works, we are continually inspired by the functional beauty and historical traditions of Handmade Smoky Mountain pottery, so we keep it at the heart of everything we do. In our studio, located in Gatlinburg, you will find stunning pieces that exemplify all the stories of Appalachian pottery, and you may even be inspired to make your own. Take part in this great Smoky Mountain tradition by trying your hand at pottery in our workshops and bring home a piece of the story with you. Visit our website today to look at all our works available for sale or book a pottery class with us. We can’t wait to see you there.