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Discover Mississippi: From Mud to Masterpiece, Potters Mold the Pottery Scene in Mississippi

  • Pottery in the Magnolia State is as unique as a fingerprint.

The artisan culture of Mississippi is as rich as its abundance of red clay. Storefronts, studios, and markets all across the Magnolia State often feature beautiful pieces of handcrafted pottery for sale. Individuality is what makes these pieces of art so attractive; whether thrown on the wheel like the famous scene from Ghost or meticulously handmade from what otherwise looks like a slab of mud, each and every piece of pottery is unique in its own way. Many Mississippi homemakers will tell you that the most hospitable homes in the Hospitality State must have some form of Magnolia representation. Since not every home can have a Magnolia tree, there’s an everlasting demand for pottery representing Mississippi, often handcrafted magnolias. 

Potters as unique as fingerprints

Pottery in the state of Mississippi is as unique as a fingerprint, as these are handmade pieces. Just like a fingerprint, there’s no “perfect copy” of the one before it. The same goes for the bevy of potters in Mississippi. 

McCarty Pottery in Merigold houses some of the most collectible pottery items in Mississippi. Lee and Pup McCarty started crafting their pottery in the 1950s. According to their biography. William Faulkner once showed the Mcartys a clay deposit in a ravine on his property and told them to “have at it.” The handsome amount of Mississippi clay and humble beginnings with a small kiln in a relative’s old barn gave the McCartys what they needed to build an internationally renowned and award-winning collection with numerous publications and museums featuring their work. McCarty Pottery in Merigold is now a destination for enthusiasts, with the Gallery Café offering good food on top of amazing pottery.

Peter’s Pottery in the historic town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, in the Delta is also highly collectible, with ovenware, dinnerware, lamps, animals, service plates, specialty pieces, and more in the studio. For over 20 years, the humble buildings at Mound Bayou have showcased these handmade treasures to thousands of visitors a year. Peter’s Pottery also hosts shows throughout the year, including a fundraiser Open House of Peter’s home, with all proceeds benefitting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. 

Robert Pickenpaugh has had Pickenpaugh Pottery and Gallery in Madison for fifty years. Pickenpaugh has earned mainstay status in the pottery world in Mississippi as a master in the craft and a phenomenal teacher. Pickenpaugh Pottery and Gallery offers intricately designed and painted flowers of all kinds, wall-hanging art, lawn ornaments, Christmas ornaments, and more. Pickenpaugh is such an icon in Madison that he even served as the Grand Marshal for the City of Madison Christmas Parade in 2023. Pickenpaugh is still in the business, though his daughters manage more of the storefront these days. Pickenpaugh not only provided beautiful artwork over his five decades but was also an avid teacher and felt a responsibility to continue the craft. And that’s where Jonni Webb got her start. 

Turning curiosity and passion into pottery

Jonni Webb has been a potter for over 30 years and got her start learning under Robert Pickenpaugh. 

“I just wandered into his shop one day for classes,” said Webb. “And he would tell you that I never left. After that very first class, I thought, ‘I want to do this for the rest of my life.’” 

Webb’s mother was a painter, so the artistic gene was always present. After being an ad executive for years, Webb needed something different. 

“Being on the wheel, throwing clay, was not really my thing,” said Webb. “I started to focus on smaller pieces, and Robert told me, ‘You know, there’s a market for this.’” 

Webb has been very successful in creating a line of functional pottery under the JR Webb pottery name, which is simply defined as pottery that can be used for more than artwork. Webb creates coffee mugs, bakeware, vases, salt and pepper cellars, platters,  plates, and more. She also has several decor pieces, such as ornaments, that are offered seasonally. She makes larger quantities of these items and sells them in local stores. 

“I have some pieces at the gift shop at The Two Museums in Jackson,” said Webb. “And at Madison Marketplace.” 

Over time, Webb’s style has changed. 

“During Covid, I was tired of doing the same thing I had been doing,” said Webb. “So I began painting on pottery, different styles. I was worried because people had come to expect my work a certain way, but they’ve loved the changes, too.”

Small-town pottery to Home Town staple

(Photo: Laurel Mercantile)

Creativity, passion, and support have fueled the success of Vixon Sullivan, one of the younger of the renowned potters in Mississippi. Sullivan is from Monticello, Mississippi, where his parents, Victor and Sylvania Sullivan, fostered his love for art from the very beginning. 

“My mom was an artist, and my dad was very handy,” said Vixon. “Mom was really into mixed media. She’d go out into nature and pick things, leaves, acorns, whatever, and glue them to wood or canvas and incorporate that into her art. And if she had a vision for something, my dad could build it.” 

Sullivan is a former media consultant who just couldn’t shake the desire to embrace the creativity in his DNA. His Hattiesburg-based pottery business, specializing in functional art, was already growing in local demand when his work caught the eyes of Erin and Ben Napier of HGTV’s Home Town. His work is sold in their Laurel Mercantile store in Laurel.

Sullivan specializes in functional art with messages on some pieces, such as the word “worthy.” This is his way of speaking life to himself and others. As Sullivan’s business grows, he knows what he offers will grow as well. 

“I’m almost ready for studio and gallery tours,” said Sullivan. “But right now, I’m continuing to put out my art.” 

Sullivan said his parents have been incredibly supportive, even when he left his old job as a media consultant. “I would not be here without their support,” Sullivan said. 

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