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Images from the Mud Puddle

The pottery connection

Posted: February 28, 2014 12:40 p.m.
Updated: March 3, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Introduction

This story unfolds through a fictional framework. The setting is a present day S. C. College Campus during spring break.

The characters are Dr. William James Wilson, professor of philosophy; Dr. LeConte Ellet, professor of chemistry; Dr. Thornwell Manly, professor of theology; and Dr. Edward Bones, professor of archaeology. These four are very close friends and always eat breakfast together each morning at the faculty dining hall..

A severe evening thunderstorm has washed out an area three feet wide beside the walkway leading from the faculty parking lot and has created a mud puddle. In the bottom of this mud puddle lays a small piece of pottery with a face on it.

Each professor observes it and resolves to tell Dr. Bones about it when they see him in a few minutes at the breakfast table. They know he hasn’t seen it since his car is not in the parking lot. When Dr. Bones arrives at the breakfast table, all three professors, almost in unison, begin to tell him about the piece of pottery in the mud puddle..

Dr. Bones, “Stop! stop, stop, Gentlemen. I saw it and picked it up and have it here in this sack. I know all of you would like to know more about it.” All nod in agreement. “Let me take it to my office, clean it up and do some research. Why don’t you come by my office about thirty minutes before lunch and I’ll tell you what I have discovered about it.”

The story

When they gather with Dr. Bones at his office, most of what they say will not be fictional but historically accurate. We pick up the story later that morning in Dr. Bones’ office.

Dr. Bones, “Here is the piece of pottery all cleaned up and I’m ready to tell you some things about it. However, before I do, I would like to hear a few things from you. Each of you represents a different area of expertise and a different field of learning. I’m just curious about what you observed when you looked into that mud puddle and what your thoughts at the time were. William, how about you leading off.”

William: “Well gentlemen, as I looked into that mud puddle, I saw my face reflected in the water and I saw the face on the piece of pottery lying at the bottom. Then I noticed the reflection of the sky above in the water. Being of a philosophical bent, my thoughts expanded outward beyond this common, mundane mud puddle to the area around me and the relation I had to it and to this planet and this universe and my place in it. Was not this mud puddle and the piece of pottery made from “mud and water” just a part of something much larger and that I too was a part of that reality, whatever it may be. I must understand this universe and decide what morals, ethics and religious beliefs I need to fit in and operate in it.”

Dr. Bones: “William, I would have expected no less from you and I know you have made everything just as clear as the mud in the puddle. I really do thank you for your global and universal perspective. LeConte, What did the chemist see in the mud puddle and what did he think about it?”

Dr. Ellet: “When I looked into the mud puddle I also saw my reflection in the water and I too saw the piece of pottery with a face on it. When I saw it I began to speculate about where it was made, how old it was and what kind of clays the potter used. I expected you would want me to study it in my lab and give you a chemical analysis. You might also want me to examine it under an electron microscope and do some spectrographic analysis.”

Dr. Bones: “I very well may and if I do, I’ll let you know. Alright, Thornwell, let us have the theological view.”

Dr Manly: “When I looked into that mud puddle, I, too, saw myself reflected in the water, and then I saw the piece of pottery with a face on it. It immediately reminded me of the scripture, I am the potter and thy art the clay. It also reminded me of the story of Adam’s creation in the book of Genesis. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard ministers dolefully toll these words at funerals, ‘Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.’

“When I saw the piece of pottery I also thought of the cup Jesus used in drinking wine in the upper room, the Holy Grail. It would surprise me if it were not made of clay.”

Dr. Bones: “This piece of pottery made of clay indeed caused each of you to see different images in this mud puddle and prompted you to have different thoughts about the matter. It likewise has created a host of images and thoughts for me.

“As you know, I’m from Kershaw County and have collected pottery from the county for many years. Initially, I thought this piece might be a face jug made by Guy Daugherty or Otto Brown at the Bethune potteries from the era of the 1940s-50s but it is not. It’s from the Edgefield District and I believe it dates from the late 1850s or early 1860s. It is quite rare and valuable.

“There was a slave cabin on this part of the campus in the antebellum period and this face jug may have been owned by a slave. It may have been created by a slave in one of the potteries in Edgefield district. For example, slaves created face decorated ware at the Davies Firebrick Works and Pottery at Bath, S.C., 1862-63.

“Beginning in the 1820s, Edgefield pottery was being shipped to many places, including Camden and Kershaw District. In one manner or another, that local connection to Edgefield pottery has continued to this very day. In the past six months, local auctioneers Wooten and Wooten have auctioned rare and valuable Edgefield Pottery in two separate auctions worth tens of thousands of dollars. One or two pieces were also face decorated ware similar to the mud puddle piece.

“Our county connections with pottery go back many centuries, first with the Indians, then pre-Revolutionary War pottery and more recently with the Bethune area potteries. Two very dear friends of mine, Harvey Teal and now deceased Dr. Porter McLaurin wrote a history of Kershaw County pottery in 2002. They gave their book an interesting title, Just Mud.

“When Bethune potter Guy Daugherty was asked by a reporter to define pottery, he responded, ‘No matter what you call it, it’s just mud.’ Your comments today are in line with his thinking.

“From pre-history to the present, there is one indispensable artifact employed to learn the history of people and that’s their pottery. Man has made from mud, clay and water, vessels and containers to serve his purpose of storage or transportation of various items such as wine, foodstuffs, human remains, and even the Dead Sea Scrolls. The sea bottom of the Mediterranean is strewn with amphora (pottery containers) from ship wrecks going back two or three thousand years.

“Pottery has been used to make grave headstones, clay tablets for writing such as Babylonian cuneiform and clay objects for painting scenes.

“This morning, I was working on a bushel of Indian pottery shards I collected from a small site in Kershaw County. However, I was unable to fit any together. As I looked more closely, some of the pottery shards had magically realigned themselves into two words, YOU and ME. The theologian must be correct: Ashes to Ashes and dust to dust.

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