Otis Norris, Sandhills Pottery, McBee, Chesterfield County. Interview recorded May 2007.
A Kershaw County native, Otis Norris has been turning pots at his current location in Chesterfield County since 1998. His grandparent’s homeplace was across the street from Bethune Pottery and his father Bill spent many a year in and around the shop. Norris also spent many afternoons at nearby Brown’s Pottery, playing with Jimmy Brown’s son, Kenny. Norris worked part-time for Bethune Pottery in the 1970s and would eventually buy the pottery. He continued to turn occasionally and sell Lynches River clay to potters throughout the region.
Norris sold Bethune Pottery in 1980 to Leroy Stephens, who continues to run the pottery today. Stephens moved the pottery to a new building on the the same highway and now focuses on the production of concrete gardenware and continues to sell the well-known Lynches River clay.
Norris continued to turn pottery occassionally as a hobby until he returned to pottery full-time in 1998, opening Sandhills Pottery in nearby McBee, just over the Chesterfield County line. Norris bisque fires in electric kilns and then fires his stoneware in either a gas kiln or a wood-fired tunnel kiln. He built the wood kiln in the Spring of 2006 and by the fall of 2006 he had refined the design and firing process to his liking. Entirely above ground, the kiln is loaded through the fire-box end and the chimney position creates an updraft at the far end of the kiln. Norris fires for about 12 hours using locally-milled pine slabs.
Norris uses two types of primary clay - local clay from Bethune Pottery and clay that he digs himself from a nearby clay deposit. The Bethune clay is darker, an almost orange/brown color and very fine. The clay Norris digs himself is almost white and not as fine grain.
Norris produces a variety of utilitarian ware including dinnerware, mugs, casseroles, and pitchers using a several types of alkaline glazes. He also specializes in traditional South Carolina forms like jugs, storage jars, and face jugs. Norris turns all of the pottery and his assistant Crystal Sullivan completes most of the decorative work – face jug details, painted scenes, carved details, etc. Norris takes special pride in his signature snakes – an applied decoration he incorporates in some of his jugs and storage jars.
Audio (View Transcript)
Roots in Brown's Pottery (01:33)
Norris on his early years (02:21)
Challenges of wood firing (02:51)