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McCarty Pottery

Lee McCarty thought his life legacy would be to mold young minds as a teacher; instead, he and his wife, Pup, have left their mark on the bottom of clay creations that have come to be known around the world. In the late 1940s, while Lee worked as a teacher at the demonstration school at the University of Mississippi, Pup fell in love with pottery. She took pottery classes for fun as an outlet to quench her creative thirst, as she became more involved in art, Lee became immersed in her inspiration as well.

What started as a hobby soon became a lifestyle for Lee; a science teacher by profession and artist by trade, his occupation opened Lee to a relationship with William Faulkner, who offered Lee unlimited access to the clay ravine behind his Rowan Oak plantation. This gave Lee and Pup all the needed supplies required to continue their creative work. Lee’s background in science also aided him as an artist, as he developed the signature glazes used by the McCartys including nutmeg brown, cobalt blue, and jade.

In the early 1950s, Lee and Pup moved to Lee’s hometown of Merigold, Mississippi after Lee took a job as a science teacher at Shelby High School. The search began for a location to construct a pottery studio; Lee’s “Aunt” Margaret Smith offered the couple her old mule barn, which they converted into a studio downstairs and living quarters on the upper level. It was not always the best of situations, freezing in the winter and sweating in the blistering heat during the summer, but they made do. In 1953, Pup began plotting an eclectic three-acre garden that married nature and art around the old barn. In August 1954, Lee retired from teaching and he and Pup became full-time artists; it was then that McCartys’ Pottery was formed. They never expected to build a business but were driven to succeed by their desire to have a simple and artistic lifestyle. That desire transpired into the ambiance of McCarty studio, simple elegance, which is still carried on today.

Their work is unique in that no two pieces are just alike. The commonality of McCarty art is the Mighty Mississippi River, represented by a black wavy line, and the McCarty signature, both trademarks found on each piece of McCarty pottery, along with the hands that threw them. Their work is acclaimed worldwide; McCarty Pottery can be found in the Smithsonian art gallery and has been in exhibits as far away as Tokyo, Japan. The McCartys were honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Institute of Arts and Letters in 1996. The McCartys were also honored with exhibits for talent and achievement in art by the University of Mississippi and University of Florida in the 1990s.

The McCarty Pottery studio in Merigold is still home to Lee McCarty, making it convenient for him to greet guests who venture from far and wide to catch a glimpse of what McCartys’ Pottery is all about. The gardens remain a symbol of friendship and love remembering the late Pup McCarty who passed away in February 2009. A short walk from the gardens is The Gallery restaurant, owned and operated by the McCarty family, which features southern favorites and recipes by Lee McCarty. The restaurant exudes the atmosphere of simple elegance and has become a beacon of southern formality offering a perfect spot for afternoon tea or an elegant event. The pottery and restaurant are operated by Lee McCarty and his god sons, Jamie and Stephen Smith, who were raised in the McCarty home, returned to Merigold in 1998, and are in place to carry on the McCarty legacy. Stephen manages the businesses while Jamie, a potter, works with “Uncle Lee” on new artistic creations such as the recently introduced McCarty Black Eyed Pea serving dish.

McCarty Pottery was started as a family business with husband and wife side-by-side throwing pottery together and creating a name that is now synonymous with Merigold and the Mississippi Delta. Each McCarty creation has a history that starts with the Mississippi Delta. The studio in Merigold is the only location where McCarty Pottery is made and will continue in that tradition even into the next generations. McCarty creations can be found throughout Mississippi, Memphis, and Little Rock.

It is no mistake running across the McCarty studio or The Gallery restaurant tucked deep inside the heart of the Delta with no signs to guide your way. It requires a purposeful trek and well plotted Mississippi map, but even with no signs or advertisements, McCartys’ Pottery lives on and people from across the nation flock to Merigold, home of the famed McCarty creations, to take away a piece of Mississippi culture. August 2009 will mark the 55th anniversary for McCartys’ Pottery and the continuing celebration of a longstanding tradition of art and cultural heritage.

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