Chicken Feathers Tool of Choice for Acclaimed Alabama Potter
By Caleb Hicks
Most artists paint with brushes. Hamilton potter Jerry Brown used chicken feathers.
Brown’s son, Jeff Wilburn, recounts how that came to be 25-plus years ago, following an incident involving several chicken-chasing dogs.
“We used to have a big chicken pen out behind the shop,” Wilburn said. “One morning, we had to glaze a kiln and came over here and found feathers everywhere. Dad picked up a handful, tossed them in the glaze and slapped them on.
“It took off, and we’ve been doing it ever since.”
After Jerry passed away in 2016, Wilburn and his mother, Sandra Brown, were determined to carry on the legacy Jerry, a ninth-generation potter, built. They now run Brown’s Pottery and Sons, formerly Jerry Brown Pottery, as co-owners.
“It seems like God put everything in place for us to be able to carry on Jerry’s work,” Sandra said. “Jeff started potting with Jerry when he was about 10. Now, he throws on the wheel, and I finish the pieces off with the details, which includes painting with chicken feathers.”
Jerry Brown Pottery sources its clay from a local pit five or six miles down the road. Jeff hand crafts the clay into vases, bowls, pitchers or one of the shop’s trademark “face” jugs. Every piece then is dried, feather-glazed or painted and fired in a kiln at a lava-hot 3,000 degrees F.
Sandra said the chicken-feather-painted pottery pieces are top-sellers
“People love to comment on how they have never seen anything like it before,” she said. “We have regular customers who come back every year to grow their collection or buy gifts. It’s like seeing an old friend.”
The idea of painting with chicken feathers came about 25-plus years ago. The feathers are dipped in cobalt glaze, which looks pink in color prior to being fired in a 3,000 degree F kiln.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Wilburn said he’s confident in his work. After all, Jerry taught him everything he knows.
“It feels good when people talk about how pretty and well-made our pottery is,” he said. “Hearing people say my stuff is just as good as his, which I don’t know about that, makes me proud.”
From an early age, the 50-year-old Wilburn knew he was destined to keep Jerry’s legacy alive.
“Dad always told me I’d be the one to carry this business on,” he said. “I’m trying not to let him down.”
Folks can check out the shop’s products at jerrybrownpottery.com or, better yet, at the Northwest Alabama Arts Council’s 19th Annual Jerry Brown Arts Festival set for March 6-7 in Hamilton. For festival information, visit jbaf.org.