In 1941 and at age twenty, Negatha began her sixteen-year career with Southern Potteries in their decoration department. When I asked Negatha if she had always dreamed of becoming a potter she laughed.
"No, I had done some sketching on paper but never painted or even knew anything about making pottery, but I reckon it was the only job I could do ‘cause I was only four feet eleven inches tall".
By the time Southern Potteries closed its doors in 1957, Negatha had perfected the Blue Ridge pottery patterns. Not wanting to end her pottery career, she and her husband Earl decided to open their own business and named it Erwin Pottery. The year was 1958.
Transforming what had previously been a gas station into their pottery workshop and showroom, they began producing kitchen and dinnerware items decorated in Blue Ridge patterns.
Surprisingly, it wasn't until the early 1990's that she made her first cookie jar, a plump gold-toothed mammy she called Squatty Mammy, from a mold she had purchased from Acme Craftware when they closed their doors in 1969. She doesn't remember why she hadn't used the mold but remembers clearly what caused her to start making cookie jars.
"A stranger came into my shop one day and asked me if I had any black mammy cookie jars. I told him I didn't, but I did have a mold and I could make him a cookie jar."
Thrilled with the first cookie jar, the gentleman ordered more.
"Pretty soon we were making a lot of cookie jars and it was all word of mouth, ‘cause we never did any advertising. Then a collecting book came out with pictures of some of my jars, and we started getting calls from all over. We even sold cookie jars to a lady in Puerto Rico, that's how far the word had spread."
Eventually, Negatha would produce two versions of the original Squatty Mammy. The second version, which incorporates the same lid as the first version, has a slimmer taller base and a slightly narrower A-line shaped apron. Negatha named her Tall Mammy, but Squatty Mammy remained the most popular of her cookie jars.
"I used other molds too, all of them decorated with Blue Ridge patterns. My favorite pattern was French Peasant."