Long before becoming Chief of the Catawba Nation, Bill Harris felt drawn to traditional Catawba pottery. His grandmother, Georgia Harris, was a master potter who was instrumental in carrying on the long-standing Catawba pottery tradition. A recipient of a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Georgia Harris passed her knowledge of the pottery process down to her grandson. He was eighteen when he started to learn the art form and she taught him every step of the process – from digging the clay to firing the pot.
Harris digs the clay for his pots today in the same riverbanks he learned as a teenager. Since the 1970s, Harris has actively cultivated his knowledge by learning aspects of the art from other Catawba potters. During the past fifteen years, Harris has focused more of his efforts on making pottery. He serves on the Piedmont Craftsman Art Guild, and his work has been featured in exhibitions throughout the region. Harris is also passionate about sharing his knowledge with others and encouraging the long-term viability of the pottery tradition. He teaches classes for both adults and children at the Catawba Cultural Preservation Project, takes small groups to dig clay, and teaches members of his family at home.
The Catawba Cultural Preservation Project has named him a Master Potter, an honor only given to those who have been recognized by their peers as an outstanding practitioner of the tradition. As Chief of the Catawba Nation, Harris has the opportunity to speak to schools and community groups about the tribe. He uses these opportunities to impart the importance of the pottery tradition and other aspects of Catawba culture. Harris received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2016.