Florence Wade learned to make pottery from her sisters and other family members, including accomplished Catawba potters Sara Harris Ayers and Edith Brown. The Harris family of Catawba potters belongs to a deeply rooted tradition, passed down through Catawba Indian culture for generations. At the age of twelve, Wade began working in clay after observing the work of her sisters for several years. Sara Ayers taught the young Wade the techniques of pottery making and by the time she was in her early teens, Wade was selling her work. According to Wade, she would sell her pieces for a nickel to save enough money to buy Jergins soap and make-up. Like many of her contemporaries, Wade honed her pottery skills in order to sell her work on the reservation, at nearby Winthrop University, or for resellers in Cherokee, NC.
Catawba Indian pottery, while less familiar than its Southwestern counterparts, is recognized by scholars as the oldest continuous ceramic tradition east of the Mississippi. While the number of Catawba potters actively practicing today is small, the vitality, quality, and role their pottery plays in the community’s cultural life is significant. Wade was instrumental in preserving this unique tradition as both an artist and a teacher. Her work with the Catawba Cultural Preservation Project’s children programs ensured the Catawba youth are connected to their heritage and have the opportunity to become part of its most important artistic tradition. Her work is recognized for its beauty and for its importance as a vehicle for maintaining and strengthening Catawba culture. Her pitchers – which she described as a favorite to make – as well as her peace pipes, bird effigies, and unique pistol-shaped pipes are all prized possessions of those fortunate enough to have secured them. Wade passed away in 2017.
As an advocate for Catawba culture, Wade was extremely effective. She frequently led pottery demonstrations at area schools, participated in the annual Tap Ye Iswa (Day of the Catawba) Festival, and was involved in programming at USC Lancaster. For over seventy years, Wade made and sold pottery, shared her skills and knowledge of the art form with Catawba children, demonstrated the pottery process to the general public, and performed at Catawba dance events. She worked tirelessly to ensure Catawba pottery was presented throughout the state of South Carolina and that this significant traditional art form was passed on to another generation of Catawba potters. Wade received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2011.