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Shaped by expert hands

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By Jesef Williams

Keith “Little Bear” Brown transformed clay into works of art in just minutes.

Using his hands and a few tools, Brown, a member of the Catawba Indian tribe, creates pipes, bowls and pots that can be used for daily functions, while others creations are kept primarily for display.

Brown brought his pottery skills to town April 9 for the fourth annual Native American Studies Week at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster.

The week featured several presenters and lecturers whose aim was to highlight Native American history and culture.

Brown, who set up shop in Hubbard Hall, brought in raw clay from a local river bank.

He demonstrated how clay is rolled into coil and then shaped  into a design. His main creations were a miniature bowl and a turtle pipe.

Brown used such tools as a melon scooper and a stone to smooth the edges. After the sculpting is finalized, the piece is burnished and heated, which allows it to harden.

The entire process takes about two weeks to finish, Brown said.

Brown didn’t have that much time, so he brought some of his finished works to display, including pots, cups and a pitcher.

Importance of pottery

Brown said Catawba pottery is the oldest art form in South Carolina. It had once served as many Native Americans’ primary trade item, as they exchanged pottery for food or other goods.

“This has been a very important part of our culture and our life at Catawba,” said Brown, who has been doing pottery for more than 30 years.

His work has traveled abroad to countries such as Germany, Spain, France and Japan.

Narmina Tyger, one of the USCL students on hand, watched intently as Brown molded clay.

She was impressed with his demonstration.

“It was a learning experience for me,” Tyger said. “This is definitely good because there are people who don’t even know there are Native American’s here anymore.”

Other events during Native American Studies Week included a Catawba drum and dance presentation, two other pottery demonstrations and a panel discussion featuring various Indian tribe members that touched on the need for more Native American studies in public schools.

Dr. Stephen Criswell, one of the organizers, was pleased to see strong participation from the local community as well as visitors from other areas.

“Each year we have better and better programs,” Criswell said.

“Hopefully, people will get a sense of the diversity in the area. We’ve sort of ignored this group that’s played such an important role. We’re opening some eyes.”

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1152