Lanier Meaders: The King of Southern Folk Art Pottery
Many have seen the memorable alkaline-glazed pottery jugs molded with a grotesque face, bulging eyes, and knobby white teeth, but do we know the story behind them or understand the legacy that their creator has left?
Quillan Lanier Meaders was born in 1917 into a family of accomplished potters in rural White County, Georgia. His grandfather, John Milton Meaders, founded Meaders Pottery in 1893, and his father, Cheever Meaders, inherited the Mossy Creek business in 1920 and ran it until his death in 1967. During Cheever’s residence, the studio produced mainly utilitarian items such as churns, milk pitchers, whiskey jugs, and food storage jars, but also some early iterations of the face jugs that Lanier made famous years later.
In the late 1930s, a photograph by Doris Ullman was published in Allen Eaton’s “Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands” depicting Cheever and his family, and this photograph brought publicity to the shop that helped shift the focus of Meaders stoneware from utilitarian wares to the more artful face jugs.
In 1967, the Smithsonian Institution visited the Meaders studio to document Cheever’s work for one of its earliest studies of American folklife, but the visiting researchers found Cheever unable to host the group due to his failing health – this visit charged Lanier to take the reins of the family business and fulfill the Smithsonian Institution’s order of face jugs for their first Festival of American Folklife held on the National Mall in that same year. The jugs were individually priced at $2.50 and sold out.
“I could no more stop this than I could fly an airplane. All of my movements, all of my work that I’ve done all of my life has led straight to this place right here . . . I’m about so deep in it now that I can’t get away from it.” – Lanier Meaders, 1967, The Meaders Family, North Georgia Potters, Smithsonian Folklife Studies
Lanier’s face jugs underwent a substantial evolution during his career: his earliest pieces comprised simple jugs with applied mounds of clay to represent facial features, while the later jugs were modeled wholly as dimensional faces. Lanier rarely departed from the strong earth toned glazes implemented by his forefathers, but he did modernize the glaze making process – rather than silt from a mill pond and ground bottle glass as used by earlier Meaders potters, Lanier used Albany slip, sifted kiln ashes, stoneware clay, and powdered calcium carbonate, all of which were readily attainable in Mossy Creek.
It is widely recognized that without the creative and artistic endeavors of Lanier Meaders, southern folk art pottery would have died along with his father in the mid-century. Instead, Lanier’s legacy has been an inspiration to another generation of potters who call the South home.
Lanier commanded several accolades during his life including the National Heritage Fellowship given by the National Endowment for the Arts (1983) and the Governor’s Award for the Arts in Georgia (1987). His works are exhibited in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, and several other permanent collections in the Southeastern United States.
A large collection of Meaders pottery will be offered in Ahlers & Ogletree Auction Gallery’s upcoming Spring Salon Auction slated for March 25 & 26, 2017. Subscribe to our email list to receive updates about this collection and future auctions.