Jerry Brown, Hamilton


Jerry Brown (2003)

In selecting Jerry Brown of Hamilton from a strong field of heritage award nominees, a panel of southern folk art scholars cited Jerry's significance as one of a few remaining Alabama folk potters and his service to the people of Alabama as a representative of the state's folk art traditions. They also noted his efforts in training family members and others in traditional pottery making.

Jack and Jerry Brown with their father at Sulligent pottery ca 1950

Jerry Dolyn Brown was born in 1942 in Pine Springs Alabama. His parents, Horace Vincent Brown (1889-1965) and Hettie Mae Stewart Brown (1911-1996), were both products of multi-generational pottery making families. The Browns, one of the South's most famous pottery-making families, are usually associated with Georgia, but in fact, members of the family have also made pottery in Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi. It is believed that Browns were potters in the late eighteenth century and possibly earlier. The Stewarts established a pottery in Louisville, Mississippi after moving there from Alabama shortly after the Civil War.

In the late 1930s, a recently divorced Horace Vincent "Jug" Brown, a Georgia-born potter, came to Louisville, Mississippi to work for Tom Stewart making pottery. He married Tom's sister Hettie Mae in 1939 and they soon moved to Pine Springs near Sulligent, Alabama to take over the operation of the E. P. Kennedy pottery. It was here that Jerry Brown was born in 1942. Jerry, his mother, older brother Jack, and baby sister Wanda Lou all helped at the pottery. Jerry and Jack learned to make pottery at a very young age. Occasionally their relatives Otto, Jimmy and Walter Brown and Hettie's brother Gerald Stewart would work with them.

Tragedy struck the Brown family in 1964 when Jack was killed in an automobile accident. A year later Jug Brown died and Jerry, Wanda and their mother decided that they could not stay in the pottery business. Eventually, Jerry became a logger like many young men in northwest Alabama. He eventually married and moved to Hamilton. After the birth of a son, Jeff, Jerry and his first wife divorced. While Jerry was successful as a logger, he yearned to return to the pottery business. In 1979, he met and married Sandra Wilburn.

Jerry Brown with large Face Jug photo by Marc Gooch

In 1982, Jerry reentered the pottery business and took advantage of an urban market interested in southern folk heritage. In 1985-1986, the Alabama State Council on the Arts and Appalshop shot and produced the film Unbroken Tradition. This documentary, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, documented pottery making at Jerry Brown's shop. This along with the new public consciousness of traditional Southern pottery encouraged Jerry's resolve to reenter the pottery business. You can visit Jerry and Sandra at their shop near Highway 78 in Hamilton.

Click >here to listen to an Alabama Folkways Radio Series program that includes an interview with Jerry Brown.