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Johnny Vardeman: Potter’s shop was setting for a play, story for a book
Johnny Vardeman

The late Lanier Meaders probably is the best known name of the North Georgia Meaders potters, if not one of the most notable names among potters anywhere.

His work, popular for its face jugs, sits in the Smithsonian Institution. People pay hundreds of dollars for pieces of his pottery, now rare, of course.

His father, the late Cheever Meaders, while somewhat of a celebrated potter himself, might not be as well known, but it was he who taught Lanier the art of shaping clay first into churns, jugs, flower pots, vases and other pottery for use on farms and in homes. Over time the products of a potter’s shop became recognized as pieces of art. 

And Cheever grew up in his father’s pottery place, the same one where Cheever would ply his trade. It was his father, John M. Meaders, who established Meaders Pottery in White County in the late 1800s. 

Cheever Meaders, whose work, too, is on display at the Smithsonian, comes back to life in a new book and play by the prolific White County author Emory Jones. The book is “Memories Etched in Clay,” and the play is “Cheever,” scheduled for eight performances next month at the Sautee Nacoochee Cultural Center theater in Sautee.

In the book, Jones, nephew of Cheever and his wife Arie, spends a day in their pottery shop as he often did as a child. While much of the book recalls real memories of his aunt and uncle and the pottery shop, it also tells a fictional account of a visit by the late North Georgia author and painter John Kollock and his wife Nancy. They have come to interview Cheever about his pottery and take pictures of him in action.

That allows Jones to describe in vivid and colorful detail as he remembers the shop with all its tools and equipment, the pottery yard and kiln. But it also provides an opportunity to retell the stories Uncle Cheever told him as he turned the potter’s wheel. Much of the Meaders family history comes into play, and the book pictures Cheever as a teasing, pipe-smoking potter who seemed to enjoy sharing his wisdom and stories with his nephew and his visitors.

Jones’s Aunt Arie encouraged him as a child to carve some daisies into a pottery vase she was decorating, and it plays a part in a surprise conclusion of the book, probably the inspiration for the author in producing a book and play about Uncle Cheever.

The play follows the book, but in a different way. Instead of John and Nancy Kollock visiting Cheever and Arie that day, John Burrison is the visitor. Burrison is a noted pottery expert and author of such pottery books as “Brothers in Clay,” the story of Georgia folk pottery, “From Mud to Jug” and “Shaping Traditions: Folk Art in a Changing South.”

Burrison himself isn’t in the play; his character is played by Tyler Dale. 

In addition to stories from Cheever and Arie, there are stories Jones heard from Wiley Meaders while sitting in his grandfather’s lap as a child.

The book is available in the usual outlets now, and Kindle and Amazon versions Aug. 1.

The play “Cheever” debuts Aug. 2 and runs with eight performances until Aug. 15. Tickets can be ordered at, or by calling (706) 878-3300.

Cheever Meaders died in 1967. A year later, the Smithsonian produced a documentary on the Meaders Pottery. Lanier and Arie attended the debut. Arie died in 1998.

Cheever’s father moved to White County from Banks County in the 1890s. He got several potters started, including many members of his family. That is why White County, especially the Mossy Creek area, has such a rich pottery heritage in North Georgia. It is so much a part of the county’s history, its historical society is raising money for a potter’s statue on its old courthouse grounds.

At least two other Meaders still make pottery, Whelchel in White County and David in Hall County.

Potters didn’t sign jugs they made before prohibition because they sold them to moonshiners for their white lightning and didn’t want to be connected to that illegal business, the late historian Shirley McDonald wrote. Signed pottery now is in great demand.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times whose column appears Sundays; email.

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