By Marlene Greer, Correspondent
Lee McCarty was the chemist, his wife, Pup, the artist. For more than half a century, the husband-and-wife team molded Mississippi’s native clay into beautiful handmade pitchers, dinnerware, platters, coffee mugs, candlesticks, vases and a hodgepodge of animals and fish.
Pup passed away in 2009, and Lee, at age 91, carries on with the help of brothers Stephen and Jamie Smith, whose parents were best friends of the McCartys.
“I’m here working every day,” Lee explained to a couple of tourists visiting his shop in Merigold. Though today, with an inquisitive writer as a customer, he did a lot more talking than working.
The McCartys’ unique style of pottery incorporates all the two loved about their home state. Everything is handmade using native clay from a site near Shuqualak. Lee creates the formulas for all the glazes. And most pieces carry their signature mark — a snake-like squiggly line representing the Mississippi River.
“Not only have they created wonderful pieces of art, but they’ve done it with such a connection to the Mississippi Delta,” said Stephen, who handles the business end of the business. “They’ve made art part of the culture.”
Lee was born and raised in Merigold; Pup in the small town of Ethel. The two met while in college, married and returned to Merigold to start their lives as artists. In 1954 the couple moved into the old mule barn on the farm owned by longtime family friends Albert and Margaret Smith and gradually turned it into their home and studio, where Lee still works today.
McCarty pottery has a rustic look and earthy appeal. The work comes in three main glazes —cobalt blue, jade and nutmeg — with dinnerware being the most popular. The waiting list for dinnerware is close to two years, Stephen said.
A piece of McCarty pottery is practically a staple in Mississippi homes.
“The other day a lady came into the store with her daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter,” said Stephen. “They all had their own collection of McCarty. She let her great-granddaughter buy her first piece of McCarty. Here we’ve created this wonderful piece of art and made it a part of their family.”
McCarty pottery can be found in stores throughout the state. But it’s at “the barn” where you can catch Lee at work and maybe get a tour of the couple’s lovely gardens.
– McCartys, 101 Saint Mary St., Merigold, Miss.; mccartyspottery.com