Father and son share love and reverence for pottery
Terry Ferrell doesn’t just appreciate Edgefield pottery; he treats the jugs, churns, pitchers and other items in his collection with reverence.
“I think God let me have them because he knew I would take care of them and share them,” Ferrell said. “And I do share them.”
Three days a week – Thursday, Friday and Saturday – he welcomes visitors to Terry Ferrell’s Antiques and The Ferrell Museum, located on Courthouse Square in downtown Edgefield.
Inside the building is musty, dark and cluttered. It looks like just another small-town shop, struggling to survive. But tucked in the back is a treasure trove of Edgefield pottery. Ferrell and his son, Stephen Ferrell, have collected the stoneware for approximately 50 years.
The elder Ferrell, 91, knows the history of each piece, when it was bought, what was paid for it and which family’s business or individual crafted it.
If you an express an interest in the collection, Ferrell will fill your ears with facts, figures and colorful tales. But if you ask him to choose a favorite vessel, he’ll refuse. It’s impossible, he explained, because all of the clay containers are like members of his family.
“Every piece is unique; no two are alike,” he said.
The 50 or so Edgefield pieces Ferrell has on display from a collection of about 100 include a Thomas M. Chandler celadon water cooler and a large brown storage jar whose maker was the celebrated slave potter Dave. The jar, signed by Dave and dated Aug. 18, 1857, is valued at $50,000, according to Ferrell.
Dave’s works “tend to be kind of lopsided, but they have a rustic beauty that you fall in love with,” Ferrell said. Some are decorated with short poems or rhymes.
Another item in The Ferrell Museum’s collection is the oldest known piece of Edgefield pottery. Dated July 20, 1820, and signed by Abner Landrum, it probably was used to hold medicine.
South Carolina’s historic Edgefield District, where Edgefield pottery originated, covers much of modern Greenwood, Aiken, Saluda, McCormick and Edgefield counties.
“The whole thing was started by Landrum, who was a medical doctor and a newspaper publisher,” Ferrell said. “In April 1807, Landrum wrote a letter to The Augusta Chronicle telling about the wonderful clays he found here and the promise they had for the future.”
There were large plantations in the Edgefield District, and the demand for pottery was great. Wide-mouthed jars were used to store meat and vegetables. There also was a need for jugs to hold water, chamber pots, ink wells, pitchers and snuff jars.
Many of the craftsmen were slaves, but skilled artisans and freedmen also made the various vessels from native red clay and white kaolin. They decorated some of their work with designs incorporating roosters, birds, snakes and flowers.
Landrum was famous for developing the alkaline glaze, and some of his relatives also were respected figures in the Edgefield pottery business. The Drake, Gibbs, Miles and Rhodes families were prominent, as well.
“Thomas M. Chandler came here in the 1830s,” Ferrell said. “He had slaves, but he potted himself. He was a true master potter.”
Ferrell and his son started collected Edgefield pottery in the 1960s after moving to Piedmont.
“I bought my first decorated piece at a jockey lot (flea market),” Ferrell said. “It was a Thomas M. Chandler, and I had to give 50 cents for it. It was a little preserves jar with a looped decoration.”
Trips to various yard sales and antique stores produced other finds. One nice piece was discovered on a porch, where it was being used as a flowerpot. People started bringing Edgefield pottery to the Ferrells when they found out they were interested.
“The history was one of the main things that intrigued me, and the romance still continues,” Ferrell said. “Dave was a slave who was taught to read and write and be a potter. Here we are, still talking about him today, just like he was still around.”
Stephen Ferrell, now 68, became a talented potter, producing works in the Edgefield style, including face jugs.
“To me, Edgefield pottery is a combination of history and art,” Terry Ferrell said. “Much of it wasn’t made to be pretty; it was made to be used. But it’s still artistic.”