Folk Heritage Award highlights: Bill Harris and Harold Clayton

Bill Harris, Chief of the Catawba Nation, is committed to keeping alive the Catawba pottery tradition through his work and through educating others. The late Harold Clayton shared his love for bluegrass and gospel with his family and his community and inspired others to learn to play music. Read about this year’s recipients of the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award below, and find out more about all of the activities taking place as part of the South Carolina Arts Awards on May 11.

Bill Harris, Catawba Pottery

Bill HarrisLong before becoming Chief of the Catawba Nation, Bill Harris felt drawn to traditional Catawba pottery. His grandmother, Georgia Harris, was a master potter who was instrumental in carrying on the long-standing Catawba pottery tradition. A recipient of a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, Georgia Harris passed her knowledge of the pottery process down to her grandson.  He was 18 when he started to learn the art form, and she taught him every step of the process – from digging the clay to firing the pot.

Harris digs the clay for his pots today in the same riverbanks he learned as a teenager. Since the 1970s, Harris has actively cultivated his knowledge by learning aspects of the art from other Catawba potters. During the past 15 years, Harris has focused more of his efforts on making pottery. He serves on the Piedmont Craftsman Art Guild, and his work has been featured in exhibitions throughout the region.

Harris is also passionate about sharing his knowledge with others and encouraging the long-term viability of the pottery tradition. He teaches classes for both adults and children at the Catawba Cultural Preservation Project, takes small groups to dig clay, and teaches members of his family at home.

The Catawba Cultural Preservation Project has named him a Master Potter, an honor only given to those who have been recognized by their peers as outstanding practitioners of the tradition. As Chief of the Catawba Nation, Harris has the opportunity to speak to schools and community groups about the tribe. He uses these opportunities to impart the importance of the pottery tradition and other aspects of Catawba culture.

Harold Clayton, Advocacy, Bluegrass and Gospel Music (posthumous)

Harold ClaytonHarold Clayton was a native of the Warrior Creek community near Gray Court, South Carolina. His father, Alvin, was a multi-instrumentalist who instilled in Harold a passion for a variety of instruments and music traditions. Clayton played the upright bass and guitar, but his true passion was in providing a venue for music to be presented, taught, and appreciated.

He first began providing space for local musicians to play in 2003. Every Saturday night, folks knew they could gather for a good time of picking, singing, and fellowship. In 2006, Clayton had the opportunity to move into a different space and, along with the help of friends, he completely remodeled and opened the Owings Music Hall. In order to help pay for the expense of the renovation, Clayton and his friends put on community fish fries. Friends helped with the electrical, carpentry, and plumbing work. The completion of the music hall was truly a community-based project.

Now musicians from across the region show up every Friday and Saturday night to play for crowds of young and old. Musicians offer music lessons on a regular basis, even lending instruments to students, as needed. Many of these young musicians come back to play at the music hall. In 2009, Clayton built an addition on the building to accommodate the growing crowds and the many musicians who played outside.

Clayton made a conscious effort to share his love of music with his family – both his son and grandson learned from him and are accomplished musicians today. Clayton also enjoyed working with the surrounding community as well. He could often be found singing at local retirement homes and was a regular participant at local festivals like Pioneer Day in Gray Court.

Clayton passed away in April 2015, but his family and the music community continue to carry on his legacy.