By Emma Kent // Photos by Lauren Wood
There’s a whole lot to do in the area surrounding Cleveland, so make sure to add these spots to your list when you’re in town. A quick drive out to a nearby state park allows visitors to dip their toes in the Mississippi River, handmade pottery is created from Mississippi mud and the possible birthplace of the blues hopes to educate passers-by.
In nearby Merigold you’ll find the McCarty Pottery studio and gardens. You’ve probably seen McCarty pieces before, but visiting the studio is a must while you’re in the area. The story of the McCartys and their iconic pottery is ingrained in Mississippi history. The story goes that Lee McCarty met his wife, Pup, when they were both students at Delta State University. They fell in love, got married and several years later ended up taking pottery classes at Ole Miss while living in Oxford. In 1954, they decided to pursue pottery full time. Since then, their pottery has become emblematic of the state, its rich culture and even richer “Mississippi mud.” Many of their early pottery pieces were made of clay from a clay pit at Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s Oxford estate. The McCartys counted Faulkner as a friend during their Oxford days. Eventually, the McCartys moved to Merigold, where an aunt had gifted them her mule barn. That barn became the pottery studio, and although Lee and Pup have since passed, it remains the home of McCarty Pottery to this day. The studio and showroom are eclectic, with pieces of pottery for sale and displayed among pieces of folk art and other treasures. You might even catch a glimpse of pottery pieces being thrown on the wheel while you’re there. Outside, the McCarty gardens offer a shady place to stroll or sit. McCarty pieces range from practical to decorative, and all feature the line that represents the Mississippi River along with Lee McCarty’s signature. There are also a variety of handmade animals and insects, from owls to frogs to cicadas. If you get hungry while walking through the McCarty gardens, check out the Gallery restaurant nearby, also owned by McCarty, for lunch. And yes, you’ll be eating off of their handmade pieces of pottery.
Mound Bayou, a tiny Delta town off of Highway 61 between Clarksdale and Cleveland, is home to another Mississippi pottery studio: Peter’s Pottery. Peter’s Pottery was founded in 1998 by the Woods brothers — Peter, Joseph, Sandy and Arthur. Visitors can stop in at Peter’s to browse the various pottery pieces in the studio’s retail space. The pieces range from simple dinnerware like plates and cups to intricate animals and large decorative serving platters, all glazed in earth tones. All of the pottery is microwave, oven and dishwasher safe. Each year, Peter’s introduces three or four new pieces. The pottery is made on site in the buildings surrounding the main building that houses the retail space. Peter’s Pottery is made of Mississippi mud from Columbus and Louisville. You’ll likely catch Peter himself while you’re there, and he’s happy to chat about the pottery or his favorite local spots to eat in the surrounding towns. Peter was born and raised in the Delta and graduated from Delta State University. In 2018, he was recognized as DSU’s Outstanding Alumnus of the Year and was inducted into the university’s hall of fame. Peter returned to Mound Bayou to work in the pottery business after graduating from DSU, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s great living here,” he said. “Everybody pretty much knows everybody, so we look out for each other.”
Dockery Farms could be the birthplace of the Blues. The sprawling plantation just east of Cleveland was intermittently home to Charley Patton, who was one of the most important early Delta blues musicians. In the late 1920s, Patton became a best-selling blues artist after recording his first record. Patton learned from fellow Dockery resident Henry Sloan. He also influenced many other musicians like Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson and Roebuck “Pops” Staples. Visitors can now stop at Dockery Farms as part of the Mississippi Blues Trail. Dockery Farms was started by Will Dockery in 1895. Now, the area is owned and operated by Dockery Farms Foundation, a non-profit that strives to preserve the property and heritage of the plantation as well as promote education about the Mississippi Delta blues and history. The buildings on the property have been restored and preserved and transport visitors back to a time when the blues were played throughout the Delta. Visitors can walk through the old buildings and watch an educational video or wander the grounds reading the informative signs that tell of the plantation’s history. There are also donation boxes on site for visitors to make contributions to the foundation. Guided tours can also be arranged in advance.
Great River Road State Park
If you’re in the mood for nature, Great River Road State Park in nearby Rosedale is an ideal stop to add to your list. The park sits on a 25-acre oxbow lake of the Mississippi River called Perry Marin Lake. Dip your toes in the Mississippi River just to say you’ve done it, and walk along the lake’s edge to take in the scenic surroundings. If you have the time, drop a line and you’ll likely catch bass, white perch and catfish. A Mississippi fishing license is required to fish on the lake, and the park does have a boat launch. If fishing isn’t your thing, pack a picnic and spread out under the trees to enjoy a lakeside lunch. Great River Road also has a playground for kids. The park is day-use only.