Norman Smith on the Early Days | Digital Traditions - Episode 1


Norman Smith (d. 1990), Lawley, Chilton County. Interview recorded June 1981.

Norman Smith began working in the family pottery in 1920 and opened his own shop in 1932 a few miles away. Arguably one of the most traditional of southern potters still practicing in 1981, he used a wood-fired tunnel kiln and until the 1970s continued to turn on a treadle wheel.

Smith turned functional wares, both unglazed and glazed in Albany and Michigan slip. Assisted by his wife, he produced the thick-walled crocks, jars, and churns preferred by his rural Alabama neighbors. He also produced some smaller pieces for tourists, including miniature churns and a jug-shaped pig casserole. Smith's shop was listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in 1999.

Norman Smith’s younger brother, Oscar, also started working in the family pottery in Perry County as a teenager in 1920s. When Norman left to start his own shop, Oscar continued to run the family pottery.

By 1981, after turning pots for over sixty years, Smith retired due to failing health. Rooted in the family potting tradition, his pottery was also functional - crocks, jars, and churns in either Albany or Michigan slip. Smith was correct when he predicted his son would carry on the family tradition. Pettus Smith turns pots in his shop in Clanton - producing brown glazed pitchers and face jugs marketed through folk art centers in the region.