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Blacksville Pottery

Of Local Hands and Native Clay

by John Lilly

Most people around Blacksville own a piece or two of beautiful handmade pottery. Some own quite a few. Many in this friendly town in far northern Monongalia County have fond personal memories of making this unique pottery, and of participating in this pioneering community arts and industrial education program.

Beginning in the mid-1930's, the Blacksville pottery program thrived for some 25 years, drawing on the creativity of hundreds of ordinary local people, and a nearby vein of high-quality native clay. Thousands of pottery pieces were made in Blacksville, attracting widespread attention ranging from the New York World's Fair to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Today, these pieces are considered to be collectors' items and are an indelible part of the local culture.

Student at potter's wheel
The Blacksville pottery program was a pioneering arts and industrial education effort involving hundreds of local people from the mid-1930's through the early 1960's. Here, pottery student Marvin Phillips works at the wheel during class at Clay-Battelle High School in Blacksville. Late 1940's photograph courtesy of Mildred Gerling.

Bess Johnson Richardson, now 96 years of age, has lived in Blacksville all her life. Making the pottery not only provided her with a welcome artistic outlet, but it was part of her social life. "We had suppers," she says, recalling the monthly social gatherings held among the adult pottery students. "People'd bring their husbands or their wives, and everybody brought their favorite dish they liked. Some bring buns, some bring potato salad, some baked beans and bread. Anything! We just had a good time together. It was just like having a little party. We'd work a little while and then we'd decide it was time to eat. We'd spread things on the table and everybody's sit down and eat. Oh, it brings back memories, I'll tell you!"

The program also provided financial support for the Richardson family, since Bess' husband Ed Richardson was the pottery instructor at Blacksville for some 15 years. He taught pottery, welding, and shop classes at Blacksville's Clay-Battelle High School during the day, and taught adult pottery classes at the school in the evening. Two nights a week, he also held adult pottery classes in Morgantown. "He had a nice class and everybody liked him," Bess says, with obvious nostalgic pride. "We had a wonderful life. He was the nicest person. You ask any student what they thought of him, everyone said he was a wonderful person, and he was."

You can read the rest of this article in the Spring 2000 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.