ABOUT THIS BOOK
The life and times of Alabama folk potter Jerry Brown, as told in his own words
Born in 1942, Jerry Brown helped out in his father’s pottery shop as a young boy. There he learned the methods and techniques for making pottery in a family tradition dating back to the 1830s. His responsibilities included tending the mule that drove the mill that was used to mix clay (called “mud” by traditional potters). Business suffered as demand for stoneware churns, jugs, and chamber pots waned in the postwar years, and manufacture ceased following the deaths of Brown’s father and brother in the mid-1960s. Brown turned to logging for his livelihood, his skill with mules proving useful in working difficult and otherwise inaccessible terrain. In the early 1980s, he returned to the family trade and opened a new shop that relied on the same methods of production with which he had grown up, including a mule-powered mill for mixing clay and the use of a wood-fired rather than gas-fueled kiln.
Folklorist Joey Brackner met Brown in 1983, and the two quickly became close friends who collaborated together on a variety of documentary and educational projects in succeeding years—efforts that led to greater exposure, commercial success, and Brown’s recognition as a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts. For years, Brown spoke of the urge to write his life story, but he never set pen to paper. In 2015, Brackner took the initiative and interviewed Brown, recording his life story over the course of a weekend at Brown’s home. Of Mules and Mud is the result of that marathon interview session, conducted one year before Brown passed away.
Brackner has captured Jerry Brown’s life in his own words as recounted that weekend, lightly edited and elaborated. Of Mules and Mud is illustrated with photos from all phases of Brown’s life, including a color gallery of 28 photos of vessel forms made by Brown throughout his career that collectors of folk pottery will find invaluable.