are billions of people in the world. Only a few thousand of those
people are members of the Catawba Indian tribe. Of those, just a
couple of handfuls are Catawba potters.
those handful, maybe the most recognized master potter still alive
is the one and only Margaret Robbins, who lives in the last house
on the last road on the Catawba reservation in a house that has
cats and engine blocks outside the front porch.
handmade pots, using only clay dug from the Catawba River that runs
within earshot of her ancestral and present home, and crafted by
hand without a wheel as the Catawba have done since before there
was a place called America or South Carolina, are in museums and
private collections across oceans.
still makes the pots at her kitchen counter.
night on South Carolina ETV, a documentary about six people in this
state of 4 million-plus souls who forge real things from their brains
and hands, called "Uncommon Folk," will air. Robbins is
one of the six.
the word, "uncommon?" Margaret Robbins is making her pottery
from a place in her soul. She is more than uncommon.
pottery of the Catawba, my people, is who we are," said Robbins.
"Only the Catawba do it this way."
is the daughter of two of the greatest Catawba master potters ever,
the late Earl and Viola Robbins. The couple, married 68 years, died
two months apart early last year sandwiched around their 88th birthdays.
Their pots are housed in places such as the Louvre in Paris and
the Smithsonian Institution .
Catawba have sold pottery for years but Robbins said her parents'
best-known works - Earl's snakehead pots and Violas' double-headed
braid bowls - are "priceless treasures" because their
individual styles died with them.
two Catawba pots are ever the same.
pottery is the singular most well-known aspect of the tribe to the
rest of the country and world, said Chief Donald Rodgers.
Obama was on TV last year, and a Catawba pot - an Earl Robbins snakehead
pot - was on a shelf behind him," Rodgers said. "Catawba
pots are all over this world. And only our master potters such as
Margaret Robbins create them."
have dug one type of clay, called pan clay, from a creek inlet on
the Lancaster County side of the river for centuries. Another type
of clay, pipe clay, comes from another nearby spot on the river
in a sort of cave.
Catawba have shaped the clay and burned it without electricity as
long as there has been fire. No Catawba pot is painted, or glazed,
ever, or heated by an electric oven.
pot truly Catawba is rubbed with special stones pulled from the
bed of the river, stones millions of years old, rubbed for hours
and days by hand, after baking in a wood-stoked fire.
pottery my grandparents made, that my mother makes, is a part of
them," said Paige Childers, Margaret's 18-year-old daughter.
Robbins does not uses casts, molds or instruments. Everything is
done by feel.
asked me one time why I didn't use a potters wheel, and I laughed
and said, "They'd throw me out of the tribe,' " Robbins
said. "We do not use wheels. Or paint. Or glaze. Nothing but..."
tries to explain what the Catawba use, and it comes out, just, "Us.
The Catawba people. The pottery comes from inside us."
of the legacy of Catawba pottery is all who have made it, and the
few who still do, had to find time while working regular jobs and
raising kids and trying to live as proud Catawba Indians.
of the greatest things about Robbins - and there are a lot of great
things about Robbins, a mother of three and a grandmother of four
who says she is stuck at age 29 and holding there for the rest of
her life - is she never set out to be an artist, never calls herself
pottery is done by hand, by feel, while juggling bills and fixing
dinner and sweeping floors, after a regular job is finished. Earl
and Viola Robbins did it all their lives. Margaret Robbins still
does. When she needs clay Robbins gets soaked to the waist and digs
the clay from the earth as her forefathers alone have done forever.
am a Catawba potter," Robbins said. "That is what, who,
I am. And I am proud of that."