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Pottery festival focuses on familys face jugs
Clete Meaders also creates farm animals, including pigs and roosters.

Meaders Pottery Face Jug Festival
When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Meaders farm, 2444 Tesnatee Gap Valley Road, Cleveland
How much: $5 adults, free for age 14 and younger
More info: 404-597-6679

Like many folk potters, Clete Meaders of Cleveland is dedicated to preserving the traditional process of making folk pottery, from digging his own clay to firing his face jugs in a wood kiln.

Meaders, who will be one of the featured potters Saturday at the Meaders Pottery Face Jug Festival off Tesnatee Gap Valley Road in Cleveland, said he made a promise to his father that he would "keep on doing it the old way."

The Meaders family began making pottery in 1892, using farm land that wasn’t suitable for growing crops. "The reason people became potters in North Georgia to begin with is because their land wouldn’t grow anything because it would flood," Meaders said.

Meaders said the farmers decided that if they couldn’t use the land for growing crops, they’d use it to make pots.

"When you had land that would hold water in a low spot, chances are it was because there was clay under there, and so those people took that resource and turned it into pottery."

Meaders still uses the method his great-grandfather, John Milton Meaders, used. He digs from clay pits north of Cleveland, piles the clay up outside the pit and lets it "cure" for about eight years before using it.

"Each pit is probably about the size of a king-size bed," Meaders said.

After the clay is cured, Meaders grinds it with a homemade electric grinder, the only modern convenience in his shop.

"I used a mule to grind my clay (until about four years ago), but now I have (an electric grinder) I inherited after my dad passed away. And I don’t have a real good working relationship with mules," Meaders said.

When the clay is ready, Meaders turns pots on the wheel, making jugs "90 percent of the time."

He mixes ash "tobacco spit" glaze, usually from wild cherry wood ashes, and dips the pots in the glaze before loading them into his wood kiln.

Meaders said he doesn’t use a gauge to measure the temperature of the kiln, but watches the fire until it looks ready.

"When you first learn, you learn to read the fire that’s coming out of the chimney, because it’s going to leap out of the chimney about 10 foot," Meaders said.

"You know when it’s done, and you don’t know why you know. You just know," said Meaders. "It’s kind of like maybe driving an old truck that nobody else can drive, because if you don’t put it in gear just right it won’t work."

Meaders said the face jug festival will feature other artisans — wood carvers, a knife maker and a yarn-spinner — and folks will be boiling peanuts.

Several other potters, including David Meaders, Roger Corn, Dwayne Crocker, Steve Turpin and Wayne Hewell, also will show their work at the festival.

"We all know one another. We all are good friends, and we all swap ideas and carry on and help each other out," Meaders said. "That part of the pottery world is something I really dig."