Interview with Mrs. Arzada Sanders September 21 1972

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Interview with Mrs. Arzada Sanders September 21 1972
Sanders, Arzada ( Interviewee )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Catawba Indians -- Florida
Kataba Indians -- Florida
Catawba Oral History Collection ( local )


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

Record Information

Source Institution:
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
Holding Location:
This interview is part of the 'Catawba' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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In cooperation with the Catawba Nation

INTERVIEWEE: Arzada Sanders

DATE: September 21, 1972

E: This is Emma Reid Echols, Route 6, Box 260, Rock Hill, South
Carolina, September 21, 1972. I've been visiting in the home
of Mrs. Arzada Sanders, recording the oral history of the
Catawba Indians. Mrs. Sanders is recognized by both whites
and Indians as the best pottery maker among the Catawba Indians.
She's demonstrated this art in many places--Columbia, Charlotte,
Rock Hill, and also in many of the schools here. She has been
written up in many magazines and newspapers, such as the
Columbia State, the Rock Hill Evening Herald, the Gastonia
Gazette, and the South Carolina Club Woman. I hope to be able
to send some of these articles of her a bit later. An interesting
article appeared in the Gastonia Gazette, August 18, 1963, entitled
"Potterymaking: A Forgotten Art." Throughout this article
there are pictures showing Mrs. Sanders baking her pottery in
an outdoor oven. After burning, she's removing some of the
ashes and the hot pieces of pottery. And then they're on display,
and she's smiling very happily as so many of the pieces have turned
out well. Since this article cannot be mailed, I'm transcribing
a part of it on this tape. The title is "Potterymaking: A
Forgotten Art," by Sally Beach.
"The fast-moving machine age in which we live causes this
generation to think there was never any other way of doing things.
A button is pushed, a chore done, and we slip unconsciously from a
world of creativity to automation. Mrs. Arzada Sanders, Catawba
Indian and resident of the Catawba reservation in Rock Hill, South
Carolina, is the possessor of an art in which she uses only her
hands. She does it now as it was done hundreds of years ago by
her ancestors--in fact, as it was done the very first time. There
are few American Indian tribes that have been as famous for this
pottery as the Catawbas, and Mrs. Sanders is the last of her tribe
who still clings to the ways of the past. The others have long
since given in to more modern methods or have completely given up
the making of pottery to become wives, mothers, and career women,
caught up in a rush which leaves them little time for such folly.
'I taught my children' (of whom she has many), says Mrs. Sanders.
'I taught my children, even my boys. They used to scrape for me,
but now they're all married and gone.'"
"Twice a year Mrs. Sanders gathers up her pottery and takes
it to Cherokee. Here it is sold, along with that made by the
Cherokee Indians, without gratification. Her handwork is very
distinctive and colorful. Asked about this she replied, 'The color
is burned into the clay by placing it in the fire.' Looking
closer, it might be said the color actually closely resembles
that of a coal ember--an ash-gray and black."


"Mrs. Sanders begins with wet clay brought from Lancaster
County and shaped the size and length of a cigar. She joins
piece after piece, forming the contour with her fingers on a
board just held in her lap. Each part of the pottery--base,
handle, neck, lip, and so forth--is done separately, one drying
before another is added. When the entire piece is finished
and has dried thoroughly, Mrs. Sanders scrapes the roughness
to a smooth finish with a knife and uses a rubbing rock to give
it a glaze. The pottery is then ready to be burned, insuring
a permanent glaze and giving the fascinating colors. The
designs, all of which are very old, have an abstract feeling
about them, which made this reporter wonder about the newness
of anything. Truly, Mrs. Sanders possesses a forgotten and
soon-to-be-lost art. She still finds pleasure out of using
her hands."

E: This is Emma Reid Echols, Route 6, Box 260, Rock Hill, South
Carolina, September 21, 1972. I'm working on the oral history
of the Catawba Indians, and I'm visiting in the home of Mr. Idle
Sanders and Mrs. Arzada Sanders. If you hear a noise over there,
she's got a little knife, and she's making a peace pipe. Mrs.
Sanders, hold that up, and let me see what kind of peace pipe
that is.

S: This is what's called a "arrowhead pipe."

E: I see. Let's go back just a minute. Mrs. Sanders, tell me your
full name and your address.

S: My name is Arzada Sanders. I live on Route 3, Rock Hill, South
Carolina, Box Number 378.

E: Now, you are a Catawba?

S: [Yes.] John Brown is my father, and Rachel Brown is my mother.

E: Now, Rachel Brown was a famous potterymaker, too, wasn't she?

S: Yes, ma'am, she was.

E: When you were growing up as a. little girl, did you and other
children learn to make pottery from her?


S: Well, I did, and I think Sally did. We're about the only ones
I remember making pottery. The other girls--I don't know whether
they ever fooled with it or not. I don't remember [them] foolin'
with the pottery 'cause some of 'em died when they was young
children in 1918 with the flu.

E: What brothers and sisters do you have living?

S: I have Sally Beck, Roy Brown, and George Brown.

E: Is William Brown your brother, too?

S: William Brown?

E: Yes.

S: He's my nephew. He's Edith Brown's son.

E: Edith Brown's son. That's right.

S: That's right.

E: I believe Sally Beck, your sister, still makes pottery.

S: I don't think she's making' any at this time because her husband's
sick, and she takes quite a time out with him.

E: Who brought you your clay to make this pottery?

S: My son brought my clay--Fred Sanders. He's always getting' clay
for me, and he gets my wood for me so I can burn the pottery.
Then he goes to stay with me while I'm burnin' the pottery.

E: Where does he go to get the clay for you?

S: He goes about six miles across Catawba River, way out. He digs
the top part of the ditch, and right underneath is the clay, and
it's blue and pretty. He gets me anotherr clay called pain clay,
and that's down in the woods way back about three miles from
Denmark. You go down through the woods and cross the branch of
the Catawba River. We've been getting' clay there for quite a
long time.

E: Who owns that land where you get your clay?

S: The Nesbit family.

E: And who owns the other land?

S: Dr. Oliver Nesbit.

E: They've been mighty good to you, haven't they?

S: Yes. [All] Catawba Indians making' pottery get clay there.

E: I believe one time the Cherokee Indians came down and wanted
some clay, but they didn't let them have it. Why didn't they
let them have it?

S: Well, he [Dr. Oliver Nesbit] said it was meant for the Catawba
Indians. I believe that now. I don't know, but I thought it was.

E: Now, that's what I've heard. He said that you were his Indians,
and that he wanted to save the clay for you. And that's a wonder-
ful tribute to what the whites think about you.

S: That's right.

E: Then Fred brings the clay home in his truck, doesn't he?

S: No, ma'am. He brings it in his car. He doesn't have a truck.

E: And he has big tubs or buckets to put it in?

S: He'll use grocery bags or a box.

E: When he brings it home, what does he do with it?

S: Well, he always takes it out and sets it beside the little old
house we got. And then it sits there for about two or three
weeks, till it dries out. And then after it gets dry, why, that's
the hard part. You leave it outside, and when it gets dry, you
get you an old tub that we use for a clay tub. Then I pour it
in there, and I put the water on it, and it soaks and gets soft
enough for me to work. And we don't have no trouble with it then.
I never have found but one rock out of it practically since we
been getting' clay.

E: It's a pure clay.

S: And this is a little smooth, shiny rock.

E: It's amazing that you all have been getting clay from the same
places all these years.

S: All these years.

E: And there's still plenty of clay there?

S: That's right.

E: And then you come in and you just make these molds with your
own hands?

S: That's right. We make the pottery upon this little old small
frame like that one right there. And we just make a large piece
on it [or] a small piece--any kind of work you want to do. We
usually saw one of these little boards and take good care....

E: You keep on working and working on that little piece that you're
working on. How long will it take you to finish up that one?

S: I'm just about finished scrapin' the outside. When we get to
the inside, we'll have to let it set awhile till that gets dry
enough; then bowl it out on the inside; then it'd be just like
a pot.

E: How do you bowl it out on the inside?

S: You just use a knife.

E: And dig a little hole in it?

S: Yes, ma'am. And you get a hole on the inside and you dig just
a little rim around there.

E: I see. Now, you've got a regular little small kitchen knife or
pocket knife, haven't you?

S: It's a pocket knife.

E: Looks like your husband's. I believe, Mr. Idle, she picked up
your knife.

S: I did. It's one of his knives.


E: She's got her husband's knife.

S: That's right. Then I got another little knife; it was from my
grandchildren. Then I had one knife that belonged to William's
first wife's boys, and it was too small. I [took] that knife
to play with, so I was takin' it away from 'em--probably laid
it down. I picked it up, put it up, and just gave it back to
'em Thanksgiving. I carried it around to him, and he's a
growing young boy. He said, "It's my knife."
My momma said, "Well, it belongs to you. You grow up, so
I just give it to you." So he taken the knife.

E: Now, you have over there, oh, so many, many pieces. Let me just
count. You've got pitchers and big vases, and the vases are most
unusual. They have a curved...fluted?

S: Yeah. They're fluted.

E: Then on either side of the vase there's an Indian head. Now did
you make the vase first and then put the Indian head on it?

S: Yes, ma'am, I made the bottom part first. Then I let it set for
awhile, maybe about, oh, I'd say half an hour--long enough for it
to hold the neck part of it. Then I put the top part of it on;
then the glass comes on as what we call Indian heads.

E: How do you make this Indian head? Do you have a mold?

S: We got a pipe mold that my mother and some of them made way back--
you know long, many years--out of clay.

E: Yes.

S: They made 'em, and then they burnt 'em just like we burn our pots.

E: And so you put the clay over that mold?

S: I put the clay right inside here [the mold].

E: Yes. Then that makes your two sides here?

S: Yes.

E: Now that's a beautiful piece. Then you shape the top of it...

S: ...just with my fingers...

E: ...with your fingers?


S: Yes, ma'am.

E: A fluted edge all the way around. Now, these are in different
sizes: you've got some small ones, and some large ones over
there, and then the pitcher. Now let's see how you did the
pitcher. You did the base of it first?

S: That's right.

E: Then what?

S: Then the neck; then the little lip; and after we build a handle
on it, it's done.

E: You add the lip, too?

S: Yes, ma'am, you have to add the lip.

E: Oh, I see it.

S: You come up straight with it, and after you get up straight, you
stop off or just let it sit awhile. And then you'll be able to
put [it] together.

E: Now, over here there are all kind of peace pipes. I believe she's
making the owl one today, and you have another kind. What kind is
this one?

S: That's a chicken comb pipe--got.chicken comb pipes, and animal
heads and old canoes. Our building over yonder there was sort
of hard to get here. One of my grandsons was gonna bring one
pan that was full of all these pipes. He went to get 'em. So
Fred said, "Marcus," he said, "don't worry about the pipes. You're
grandmother will make 'em one."
He said, "All right."
He was all right then. So I went and made one with this
here ornate [design].

E: There's a big poster sign over there that says "Catawba Indian
Pottery, Arzada Sanders."

S: That's right.

E: You and this poster have been places, haven't you? Where have
you been last night?

S: Workin'. This week I started Tuesday, and we'll finish up Sunday
night at the art show in Charlotte, North Carolina.


E: You've been doin' this for a number of years?

S: Oh, yes. I've been doin' this for a number of years.

E: Now you demonstrate your pottery. You make the pottery before
[the] people [shoppers]?

S: Yes, ma'am. A lot of people enjoy seeing it. Some of 'em
come up and say, "Mrs. Sanders."
And I say, "Yes, ma'am."
She says, "You know, over there at the oaks place where
they're setting up a tent for each one of 'em. A lot of people
standing' over there making' the pottery have a wheel." And she
said, "[It] just spattered all over my face. I come up over
here and see you making' pottery by hand. There's lots of

E: Why, certainly. The other ones have wheels?

S: Wheels, yes.

E: How many groups of people [are] up there making pottery?

S: I don't know how many beside me and that one that's running'
that wheel. And last night he didn't come. They said they
didn't know why he wasn't there.

E: Have a good many people been coming?

S: Oh, lots of people.

E: Lots of people.

S: People from all around [are] coming to see me. There used to be
a crowd, come at once, and stand and look for awhile. [I] try
to make a couple of pieces, and then they go and a lot more come
by--quite a few people, you know.

E: Now you can't make enough pottery to sell. Do you take some orders
for it?

S: Yes, ma'am. There's people give me orders. I got some orders now
I was to fill. I went to Rock Hill High School last week. And
Sullivan High School on White Street--I went there for one day,
and that was Tuesday. Then on Thursday I went to Finley Road
School on the Westside, on the other side of the Pepsi-Cola plant.


E: You demonstrate your pottery?

S: Yes, ma'am, I demonstrate my pottery in Castle Heights
[School] in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

E: That's at your junior high school?

S: Yes, ma'am.

E: That's a wonderful thing. So many of these children have never
seen it made as you're making it.

S: That's right. They were so proud! They said they sure was proud
I come. And some of the children I never seen since. I seen the
mother when she was young, and she married and went out West or
somewhere. Anyway she had one girl back here in Rock Hill goin'
to school.
And she said, "Did you know Edith Brown?"
I said, "Yes, ma'am."
She said, "You know she's my grandmother?"
She said, "Faye. You know Faye?"
I said, "Yeah, I know Faye. I'm her aunt."
"Oh," she said. She'd come out and talk to me after that.

E: So the little girl was your great-niece.

S: That's right.

E: And you didn't even know her.

S: Didn't know her.

E: I know the Indian children at those schools were really proud and
happy to see you. Now, you just get thanked I'm sure for this.
There's no money involved in those kind of demonstrations?

S: Yes, ma'am. They give me a little help.

E: Well, they need to. They should. When you're doin' this demonstra-
tion in Charlotte for the fair connected with the park, are you paid
to do your demonstration?

S: Yes, ma'am. They pay us for that, too.

E: How many years have you been going?

S: I've been going for about four years. Somewhere along about
four, I think.


E: Now, I notice that you make so many of the patterns that
you're mother used to make. And you make some that are
entirely different from your mother's, don't you?

S: Yes, ma'am, I make some different from her.

E: Where do you get ideas for that?

S: Well, lots of times I see some of the pictures of some of 'em.
I just go ahead and make frogs of all different kinds and sizes--
upright frogs, flat frogs, and some frogs kinda just like a little
frog sitting' up.

E: You make three or four different kinds of frogs.

S: Three different kind of frogs.

E: I remember that I brought a little boy in here one day, and he
chose the kind of frog he wanted from this selection.

S: That's right.

E: And what other animals do you make besides frogs?

S: Well, I make what used to be a duck mold, but I put a frog's
head [on it] and made a frog mold to replace the duck mold.
I just change his head a little bit different, that's all.

E: Can you make a dog?

S: Well, I never have made a dog, but I've made dolls out of it.
But it's been a long time since I done that. One of the school
teachers taught at the school on the old reservation. No, was
it on the old reservation? I believe it was down here at this
school. She come down here and taught school just a little ways
from here, down near the church. She wanted a doll made. So I
made her two of 'em out of clay.

E: Oh, my. That was something new wasn't it?

S: It was.

E: Now, one time [when] I was down here, you had a vase or a pitcher
that you did a snake entwined around.

S: Yeah, that was a little gypsy--a little pot with glaze on it with
a snake on it. I've got quite a few orders for those, and I sold
out all the bowls with the snakes on 'em.


E: What about the gypsy pot? What's it used for?

S: I guess you use [it] for flowers and things [is] about all
I know to use it for.

E: Years ago did they cook in those gypsy pots?

S: I guess so. I heard some of 'em say they did way back years

E: They're the only ones that have little legs on them.

S: Yes, ma'am. Some of 'em have legs.

E: So they're not the kind that were used for cooking. Well,
Arzada, you make so much pretty pottery, and you have a little
sign out there on the highway that says "Indian Pottery."
Many, many people come here to see you, don't they?

S: Yes, ma'am, quite a few. We have people sometime, when I
don't have a piece of pottery, coming' looking' for pottery.
So that's the reason I'm trying' to make some. The children
is home in the morning's, and now tomorrow morning' I'll be
making' some more pottery in place of the pipes. See, I may
be even have to trim 'em while they're damp, so they'll give
'em good shape.

E: After you get 'em trimmed, do you bake them in a electric oven?

S: Well, after I get 'em trimmed like this, I'm gonna let 'em set
for awhile, so they get kinda white like those pottery is over
there. Then you take a wet cloth and rub 'em real good...down
smooth. Then you take a rubbin' rock and you rub 'em. That's
what you call "put your shiny part to it."

E: Now, those white ones over in the corner have probably been
sitting there several days, haven't they?

S: Yes. They ready now to start. I think I burned around four or
five of 'em last week--some of them a little bit more than others.

E: You do this in your oven in your house here?

S: No, ma'am. We use a heater down at the old reservation at our
old homeplace. You could get your wood made in about a day or
two before we go down; leave the wood outside; and it's dry. It's
real oakwood, and you can get it to dry out real good. And you go


down there and get a fireplace cleared up good, and then
we'll [put] a pot around the fireplace. If you've got a
small piece, you can put one on top of another; and if you
get a big piece, you're able to make a few pieces on it
'cause we leave them sitting' there like those pieces. Then
we heat 'em with slow heat for three hours--just a little
temperature, you know, not too much at a time. And then after
the three hours is up, why, then you'll be ready to put them
in the fireplace. I left my coal out in the fireplace, lay
the pottery on top of the coals, and then put green wood on
top of the fire--three kinds of wood. And then we burn three
kinds of chips. Some bark come off the wood, you know. This
[is] pulpwood.

E: So you burn these sets of wood on top of it?

S: That's right.

E: Then that would be a very, very, hot fire that time, wouldn't

S: It sure is hot.

E: Do you stay down there the whole time?

S: Yes, ma'am, we stay right there by the old house all the time.
We stayed last Saturday, I believe it was. We stayed down there
till about ten or eleven o'clock. Then we come back home. See,
Fred's working I have to wait till after he get off work. Then
there's a lady always come help take me down. She'll help me
do the work, so I won't be by myself till Fred gets there. And
she stays on till we get through.

E: When the fire has died down, those pots are very, very hot. How
long do you leave them in the fireplace?

S: Well, when the fire dies down, the chips are ash chips--it's bark
really. After all the wood's been burnt down a few times, why
then you have to take 'em out before it burns plumb down. See,
it'd be kinda dark then, and then they brings the color into the

E: Now how do you get them out of that fireplace?

S: I got a long iron sitting' here that come out of an old gable of
a wagon...used to have legs of iron. And that's when I take 'em out.


E: If they cool too quickly, they'll pop won't they?

S: Yes, when I put them in the tub--you see, we've got an old tub--
we got bricks sitting' in there right near the fireplace. And
that keeps 'em from getting' cool too quick.

E: And you could cover 'em up, too, to keep 'em from getting' too....

S: Yes, if you'd like to. I never did. We'd just keep 'em right
there. At night, why, we shut the door.

E: Do you ever put any different pieces of wood across them to
change the color in them?

S: No, ma'am, I never have.

E: You never know what the colors are going to be, do you?

S: Well, most of the time they're some of 'em be colored with some
kinda dark and light color. And some of 'em come out and look
like they're light, and they're some yellow--just some pieces,
not all of 'em.

E: It's a surprise to know what they're gonna be, isn't it?

S: That's right.

E: You never can mix two pieces exactly alike, could&lyou?

S: That's right.

E: After you've taken them out of the fire and put 'em in a big tub,
lift 'em, put 'em in the car, and bring them home?

S: No, ma'am. [I] let 'em sit there till they get cold. Then after
they get cold, well, we wrap 'em up in paper and bring 'em back.
Then we dust 'em with a cloth and get all the ashes off of 'em,
and get 'em cleaned up and wrap 'em up in newspaper. And we'll
pack 'em in a clothes basket--bring 'em back in that.

E: Did you bring 'em back this Saturday night when you came?

S: Yes, ma'am. We wait till they get cool enough to bring 'em back.

E: That's a full day's work, isn't it?

S: Yeah, but I enjoy it. Seems like I just love to make pottery, you
know. [I] won't work in a crowd. [I'm] so old now you can't get
no job. And so I and the husband sit around here looking' for some-
thin' I could do. I'm all right if I can keep my hands busy.


E: Well, you've demonstrated pottery a lot of places. When you
were working as a cook here at the Catawba Indian School,
you'd demonstrate pottery for the children.

S: Yes, ma'am.

E: Is that right?

S: Yes, ma'am, I did.

E: And you've done it many, many times.

S: That's right. I even showed 'em how it was burnt and everything.
Down there, you see, we could heat 'em in the stove 'cause [it]
was a gas stove, and it was a big one. So half the time I'd put
'em in there and let 'em get hot; and then when they get hot
enough, the children would get the wood for me and build a fire.
When it died down I'd just stick my pottery right there in the
bed where the coals was and bring my pottery knapsack right down

E: I know that was interesting.

S: Yes, ma'am.

E: You've got a lot of children and grandchildren. Who in your family
makes pottery?

S: My daughter, Katherine, makes pottery. And Fred was tellin' the
people last night, "I believe I'll just quit work, and go home, and
sit down, and get my mother to make a pot for me." You know he's
got a good job, and he can't quit, but he loves to fool with the
pottery. He can rub, but he can't build. He can trim 'em up and
things like that.

E: But he certainly is a big help to you.

S: Yes, ma'am, he's a big help.

IS: I bet he could build if he wanted to.

S: If he wanted to he could.

IS: He now works at a machine shop. He is well trained in the machine
shop, and anybody can work in a machine shop can build a lot of
things. Ya got to learn that.


E: Yes.

IS: And the Indians did this. I'm pretty well sure he can build

S: He said he wants to.

E: He'd like to. There's talent among the men in the pottery
business I know.

IS: The Rock Hill people call her pottery making' an art. They give
'em that art in any art school. So that's what you're gonna
find from now on.

E: You have a real talent; you're really an artist in doing this.

S: Yes, ma'am.

E: Arzada, years ago, what prices did you used to get for pieces
of pottery?

S: Well, some of 'em we got twenty-five or fifty cents and some a
dollar. And now we get two dollars for pipes; the canoes is
worth two or two and a half [dollars]; and then the big pieces
we get ten [dollars] for. We used to didn't get but a small
amount, only about a dollar or two. This [was] way back a long
time ago. Now, the prices is way [is] everything else.
Then I would guess some of 'em a little bit larger would raise it.
A pitcher smaller than that we'd get three [dollars] for; we get
five [dollars] for more like that size.

E: But even so you've spent a whole day firing this pottery, plus
the making of it that you've done in your home.

S: That's right.

E: So you've spent at least three or four solid days making one batch
of pottery.

S: Yes, ma'am.

E: And from one batch of pottery you get what, twenty-five dollars?

S: No, no. It don't take too much. I don't know just how many
pieces it was. Five pieces, I got eighteen dollars for it.

E: Five pieces for eighteen dollars.


S: Yes, ma'am. According to the size.

E: But you could make in the business world in one day what you have
to work three or four days in making pottery. I believe that's
about right, isn't it?

S: That's right.

E: Do you think there'll ever be a chance for there to be a museum
down here, and sell pottery on the reservation or anywhere?

S: Well, I don't know. They've been trying' that for quite a few years.
I don't know if they'll ever get any started or not. I know
Mrs. Fred Lawrence used to try to get help to build a museum. She
even bought a piece of land down there to build a museum on, and
it's still there. And she had the pottery to put in the museum
and is still holding onto it. And so they haven't made any start
on building' anything yet.

E: Is there any pottery available to put in the museum?

S: She had [some] last time I heard of, so I don't know. I sold her
quite a few pieces of pottery, and Ola Harris sold her some, and
some of the rest of 'em [sold her some]. I don't remember who they
was. We used to sell pottery way back a good bit ago, and she'd
buy 'em, or we'd take 'em to her.

E: Who has that pottery now? You don't have any idea?

S: Well, it's her niece.

IS: Mrs. Steele.

E: Mrs. Steele. Mrs. William Steele.

IS: That's right.

E: [She] must have that pottery. We'll see if anything's gonna be
ever done with that.