Unbroken Tradition (Film)

Unbroken Tradition

  •  Herb E. Smith
  •  1989
  • Color IconColor
  •  29:15
  •  16 mm film
Film Description
Jerry Brown of Hamilton, Alabama, is the ninth generation of his family to sit behind the potter’s wheel and turn out churns, jugs, pitchers, pots, and bowls. Unbroken Tradition looks at the continuation of a family tradition that has had an impact on Southern potterymaking since John Henry Brown (Jerry’s great- great-great grandfather) came from England to set up his potter’s wheel in Georgia in 1800. Unbroken Tradition follows Jerry Brown as he digs his own clay, prepares it with a mule-driven pug mill, works the clay into a twenty-seven pound churn on his wheel, and glazes and fires it in his wood-powered, groundhog-style kiln. Along the way, Jerry talks about how pottery has shaped the life of his family. Unbroken Tradition serves well as a jumping off point for discussion of the survival and changing roles of handmade crafts in industrialized society, the pursuit of alternative careers, the relationship between artisans and other types of workers, and strategies for maintaining connections to one’s family history.

Screenings & Festivals
  • Alabama Public Television
  • American Folklore Society
  • Athens International Film and Video Festival
  • Kentucky Educational Television

This film was preserved by Appalshop Archive with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. To support the work of preserving and safeguarding the collections, please consider designating a donation to Appalshop Archive.


“An elegant treatment of continuity and a man’s love for his work and his art. While watching the film, I kept praying that Jerry’s son would someday see pottery through the eyes of his father and carry on this wonderful tradition.” — Kentucky Folklife Program
“Provides a warm, intimate portrait of Jerry Brown and his family, and attests to the continued vitality of the old clay clans that once worked throughout the South.” — Journal of American Folklore
“Laced with century old attitudes about life and pottery … thoroughly honest and captivating … worth watching twice.” — Ceramics Monthly