I saw a couple of familiar faces when walking around Belfast, Maine, this week. They were looking out from an art gallery window on Main Street.
I went inside and confirmed that the two moonshine jugs were made by traditional potter, Lanier Meaders. I bought many of his pieces when I visited his rustic workshop in Cleveland, Georgia, forty years ago.
A law school friend, Cliff Black, had told me about the third-generation potter before my North Georgia camping trip in 1973. He said, "You've got to go there. The guy makes everything himself, from start to finish. He digs up the clay, shapes it, and paints it with a glaze he grinds up himself with a mule-driven mill. After all that, he sticks them in a ground hog kiln and heats it red hot using wood he cut down. He sells each piece for just five bucks!".
I had been working with clay at the time. I had to go there. Lanier seemed like my kind of guy.
I wasn't disappointed. The simple, gracious man gave me the tour of his one-acre homestead. His "studio" (see photo below) was an old cabin with a dirt floor. I watched him mold clay using a wheel he kept moving by kicking his foot.
I loved my time with him experiencing the entire pottery process, from digging up the smooth mud to fired, finished product. Everything he made had a function, his butter churns, bean pots, and moonshine jugs. Nothing was made for "art" but later, his creations became just that.
In the 60's his dad, Cheever Meaders, had made a few jugs with the strange, creepy, faces and found that some people actually preferred them. They'd pay two dollars, twice as much as the no-face jugs.
The ones I saw in the window this week were priced at $1800. It didn't surprise me. Six years ago I learned the jugs had become quite valuable.
I purchased sixteen of his pieces that day in '73 and carted them back to Florida. I gave most of them to friends and family members for Christmas. I kept a few things but over the years some of these were broken and tossed out.
My two remaining jugs were gazing down from a kitchen shelf six years ago when artists Jeff and Dina Knapp happened to visit. They seemed astonished to see the dark green-glazed twins. Jeff asked, "So you know Lanier Meaders?" I told them my North Georgia story and Dina added, "Those things are worth thousands now!".
I checked E-Bay and confirmed that it was true. I contacted many of the people I had given Meaders' pieces to about their good fortune. None of them remembered my gifts from long ago. They couldn't find the lost pottery deep in their closets either.
How many forty-year old Christmas gifts do you have lurking around your house? Lanier's work had a better-than-average chance. Each piece was useful and ceramics last thousands of years, much longer than any other form of art.
Lucky me. I enjoy folk art, even if it sometimes stares back at me. I'll never my mottled green faces. They'll stay perched on a high shelf at home, memories of that magical day forty summers ago.