“I didn’t even know anything about [pottery] until he hired me to come in there,” Cooper said. “I had been in his pottery shop before as a smaller child and, of course, growing up there in the neighborhood and the close proximity of his shop, my dad had worked in and around his place [at] the time when Bill was burning the old wood kiln. ... My interest was almost immediate when I went to work for him. It was almost like I caught on fire.
“[During] the time that I worked for him, I learned all that I could. I learned as much as I could about the business itself. I learned as much as I could about making the pottery and had gotten pretty good at it. But when I graduated from high school, I married that same year. Mae and I married in July of 1963 [and] I needed a job that paid better. [So] I had to leave and get a job that I could support a family with. So I stayed out of the pottery business for 16 years and then came back [in] 1979. And that’s when I established J.R. Cooper Pottery and started on my own.”
Along with his association with Gordy, Cooper’s pottery roots are highlighted in Jim McFarland’s recent book, “The Potters of Orange.” In addition to Cooper, the literary work also features current and former potters or shop operators E.L. Stork, Earl Stork, J.P. Reid, Homer Burns, Belle Reid and Jay Benzel, all of whom have ties to the area east of Canton, which used to be referred to as Orange.
“Over the years as I was collecting the pottery [of E.L. Stork and J.P. Reid], every little tidbit of information that I could find about [them] I would just copy it down or make a note of it,” McFarland said. “So I just started stacking up these little tidbits of information and a lot of people have never really looked into it or researched the information about these old potters. ... So I just decided that I ought to compile it and sort through it and put it together and write a book.”
Due to his sizable pottery collection, McFarland was able to provide about 400 photographs in the book to help bring the creations to life for the reader. Through “The Potters of Orange,” the author hopes to promote the highlighted individuals and encourage readers to buy from local artists.
“Many times people collect things, things that are made in factories like up North or in foreign countries, collectible-type things or decorative things,” McFarland said. “People are interested in them and they just collect them for whatever reason. My point is why not collect and study things that are made right under your own nose basically. In other words, we tend to take it for granted — these people in studios [located] at Cartersville or down at Marietta or in Canton, places like that.
“We just kind of pass them by and would tend to think, ‘Well, that something out of New York or Chicago, that that’s the important stuff that you ought to collect.’ ... [But] there are people hand-making pottery, artists who are painting oil paintings, things of this sort, that are right under your nose, right in the area of where you live and yet we tend to overlook them and pass them by. And my point is don’t do it, actually look at what they’re doing and if you collect it and study what they do, it may be more interesting and important and rewarding to collect that and have an interest in it rather than these things from other places, from far off.”
For Cooper, it is an honor to be included in “The Potters of Orange.”
“Not having been in a family of potters and kind of being viewed as someone outside of that, recognition is hard to come by,” Cooper said. “I’ve had many, many things published, like newspaper articles and magazine articles ... but as far as getting a place in the history of pottery making, I just had come to the conclusion that I may never be a part of that.
“Then just all of a sudden, Jim McFarland called me one day and said, ‘I had an idea, what do you think about it?’ And, of course, being included in his book is probably the greatest honor that I’ve had in 53 years. So yes, I was just blown away by it because to me this is it, this is probably the one chance that I have.”
Published by Yawn’s Publishing, “The Potters of Orange” retails at $39.95. Along with visiting Yawn’s Books & More Inc., 210 E. Main St. in Canton, the book also is available for purchase on the store’s publishing website, www.yawnspublishing.com.
Individuals also can obtain a copy of the book at J.R. Cooper Pottery, 8794 E. Cherokee Drive in Canton, which can be reached at 770-479-1536 or via Facebook. Highlighting the local ties in “The Potters of Orange,” the Bartow History Museum, which currently sells Cooper’s pottery in its gift shop, will hold a book signing during the first half of 2013.