Catawba Indian chief to receive state honor for pottery work, advocacy

COLUMBIA
Catawba Indian Chief Bill Harris will be honored for his artistry in Catawba pottery with a state award Wednesday.

Harris is one of two 2016 recipients of the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award, which is presented by the S.C. General Assembly to practitioners and advocates of traditional arts that are significant to communities around the state, according to the S.C. Arts Commission. It is managed by the Arts Commission and the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum.

Catawba Indian Chief Bill Harris will be presented with a statewide award Wednesday for his artistry and advocacy in Catawba pottery.
Catawba Indian Chief Bill Harris will be presented with a statewide award Wednesday for his artistry and advocacy in Catawba pottery. Contributed photo
Harris, chief of the York County-based Catawba Indian Nation, began learning traditional Catawba pottery at age 18 from his grandmother, according to a release from the Arts Commission. He cultivated that knowledge by learning aspects of the art form from other Catawba potters and has been named a master potter by the Catawba Cultural Preservation Project.

Teaching children each year in the Summer Cultural Immersion program and speaking to school and community groups about the tribe, Harris is as much an advocate of the art form as he is an artist, according to the narrative submitted for his nomination.

The recognition shows the importance of Catawba pottery to the culture and heritage of the Catawba nation and the state, Harris says.

“What is special to me is that my grandmother taught me the techniques that were taught to her, and I am able to continue this tradition by creating my own pieces and teaching others within the tribe,” he said. “In 4,000 years, there has never been a time when the (Catawba Indian) nation stopped making pottery. This continuation is what makes the Catawba pottery tradition unique.”

An awards presentation Wednesday at the State House will honor Harris and the other recipient of the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award as well as the winners of the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Awards for the Arts. The presentation is at 11 a.m. in the lower lobby and is open to the public.

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