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For Caroleen Sanders, pottery is more than clay that’s been shaped and hardened.
Those pieces represent her passions and dreams while forever connecting her with her rich Native American lineage. She says it’s from the heart.
Sanders, a member of the nearby Catawba nation, started making pottery in the 1980s and has been taking it seriously since 1994. Her work has appeared in publications and been displayed at various events.
“My heart, my soul, my breath,” Sanders said of the pottery. “It’s something that inspires me.”
Sanders repeatedly displayed that passion Thursday, Oct. 4, during the official open house for the Native American Studies Center in downtown Lancaster. The facility is occupied and run by faculty at University of South Carolina Lancaster.
Sanders and fellow Catawba member Keith “Little Bear” Brown shaped clay into bowls and other pieces as visitors engaged them with questions about Catawba art and history.
When creating pottery, Sanders said it feels like she’s in another world.
“It’s been an awesome day sharing what I know with the people who came,” she said about the open house. “It’s one of the highlights of my entire life.”
As Sanders and Brown made pottery, the thumping sound of a drum resonated throughout the center.
Nearby were other Catawbas performing a live drum and dance demonstration for visitors.
USCL freshman Valerie Munoz, who was watching the dance routine, said she initially came to the open house solely to get extra credit for her art class. But within minutes of being inside the center, she realized there was more benefit that just a boost to her grade.
She said the paintings and photography in the galleries stood out.
“It’s pretty amazing, everything in here,” Munoz said. “I’m really glad I came.”
The Native American Studies Center has more than 14,000 square feet of space to display its extensive pottery collection and other artifacts. There's a classroom, conference room, archaeology lab, recording room, language room and also an area for archives.
There are also four galleries, one of which is named after local historian Lindsay Pettus.
A few years ago, Pettus acquired a plethora of Catawba pottery, photographs and other materials that he has since turned over the USCL’s Native American Studies program.
He said he’s elated to see the program move into the center.
“I appreciate everybody that’s been involved in this project,” Pettus said during the open house. “It’s an absolute thrill to see it come to fruition.”
USCL faculty and city leaders began discussing the idea of the center about a year ago. The effort was funded chiefly through the city’s hospitality tax grant program.
Lancaster Mayor Joe Shaw spoke about the project during Thursday’s first of two open-house sessions, which also included remarks from USCL Dean Dr. John Catalano and USC President Harris Pastides.
Shaw spoke of the ability to highlight Catawba culture while also bringing new energy to Main Street.
“Having a USCL presence in downtown Lancaster is, in itself, a great accomplishment,” Shaw said. “But having a permanent building to house the Catawba pottery and other artifacts in downtown is a huge achievement.”
Jesef Williams at (803) 283-1152