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Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Awards
The South Carolina Arts Commission and McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina announce Florence Wade of Rock Hill and Willie Van Brailey of Orangeburg as the 2011 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award recipients.
The S.C. State Legislature will present the awards following a session of the House on May 5 at the Statehouse. Following the Statehouse ceremony a reception will be held at McKissick Museum on the campus of the University of South Carolina. This informal event gives supporters and the general public the opportunity to celebrate the recipients’ artistic skills and lifetime commitment to the preservation and promotion of traditions rooted in place and community. The reception will take place in the second floor lobby of the museum.
Florence Wade learned to make pottery from her sisters and other family members, including accomplished Catawba potters Sara Harris Ayers and Edith Brown. The Harris family of Catawba potters belongs to a deeply rooted tradition, passed down through Catawba Indian culture for generations. At age 12, Wade began working in clay after observing the work of her sisters for several years. Ayers taught Wade the techniques of pottery making and by the time she was in her early teens, Wade was selling her work. According to Wade, she would sell her pieces for a nickel to save enough money to buy Jergins soap and makeup. Like many of her contemporaries, Wade honed her pottery skills to sell her work on the reservation, at nearby Winthrop University, or for resellers in Cherokee, N.C.
Catawba Indian pottery, while less familiar than its Southwestern counterparts, is recognized by scholars as the oldest continuous ceramic tradition east of the Mississippi. While the number of Catawba potters actively practicing today is small, the vitality, quality and role their pottery plays in the community’s cultural life is significant. Wade is instrumental in preserving this unique tradition as both an artist and a teacher. Her work with the Catawba Cultural Preservation Project’s children programs has ensured the Catawba youth are connected to their heritage and have the opportunity to become part of its most important artistic tradition. Her work is recognized for its beauty and for its importance as a vehicle for maintaining and strengthening Catawba culture. Her pitchers, which she describes as a favorite to make, as well as her peace pipes, bird effigies, and unique pistol-shaped pipes are all prized possessions of those fortunate enough to have secured them.
As an advocate for Catawba culture, Wade has been extremely effective. She frequently leads pottery demonstrations at area schools, participates in the annual Tap Ye Iswa (Day of the Catawba) Festival, and is involved in programming at USC Lancaster. For more than 70 years, Wade has made and sold pottery, shared her skills and knowledge of the art form with Catawba children, demonstrated the pottery process to the general public, and performed at Catawba dance events. She works tirelessly to ensure Catawba pottery is presented throughout the state of South Carolina and that this significant traditional art form is passed on to another generation of Catawba potters.
A native of Orangeburg, Willie Van Brailey grew up on Treadwell Street—an historic neighborhood where newly freed slaves aspired to make a better life for themselves. Claflin University (1869) is located across the street and many of South Carolina’s first African American lawyers, doctors, architects and entrepreneurs were born in the neighborhood. This is the nurturing environment in which Brailey was raised. His mother, Marie Brailey, learned the art of chair caning from a close friend and neighbor, Icie Williams. She used her skill to supplement the family income and became known throughout Orangeburg for her chair caning prowess. Mrs. Brailey was recognized with the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 1997.
Brailey learned the art of chair caning from his mother and began caning in earnest in 1979. When his mother’s eyesight began to fail and she was no longer able to work on chairs, Brailey decided to complete all of her unfinished projects. At this point the Treadwell Street tradition began to reach a much wider audience. Brailey became the first male to work seriously in the tradition and he expanded on what his mother taught him. He has developed 11 new designs using various forms of math and geometry to make his work more precise and symmetrical. The high quality of his work and the attention to detail has long been recognized by antique dealers and others throughout the region. He is not only in demand to replace and repair traditional designs, but to create new designs as well.
Brailey still lives on Treadwell Street where he continues to keep the chair caning tradition strong and vibrant. He was a participant in the annual Folklife Festival at McKissick Museum, and he donates a chair to an individual in the community each year. Brailey often discusses his craft at group meetings throughout Orangeburg County and takes special pride in passing on a tradition he learned from his mother over 40 years ago.