Chevis Davis Chitwood Kyte’s short life.
But it has a kernel of truth in it.
When hearing that phrase, you may be tempted to relate it to the Phoenix, the mythical bird arising from its own ashes. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any such happy ending to Chevis’ own life.
However, despite the pain Chevis experienced in her life, ironically, the job she had to obtain to support herself and her two remaining children after her divorce paid her to create beauty and bring it into the lives of her customers.
As last Tuesday’s post showed, Chevis died of cancer on November 15, 1942. If you were sharp enough to notice it in her death certificate—as reader Wendy of Jollett Etc. had mentioned—you saw Chevis worked as a decorator for a pottery company.
The specific pottery company Chevis was employed by gives an interesting perspective on her own life. I first discovered the connection while taking my time, wandering through her entry on the 1940 census record. There, I discovered one of those recording flukes—apparently the census enumerator didn’t exactly follow directions there—that allowed me to discover the specific name of the company where Chevis worked.
While Chevis’ home town—Erwin, Tennessee—was mainly a railroad town, there was one offshoot from the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railway that provided a divertissement from that form of employment: their subsidiary, Southern Potteries, Incorporated.
Blue Ridge name and emblem, and was seeing its distinctive wares marketed in showrooms in major U.S. cities.
The whimsical dishes, no one piece exactly the same as another, became so popular that—long after Chevis’ passing—the company grew to employ over one thousand local area residents, all working in some phase of the production process to create and deliver those hand-painted wares.
With changing market conditions negatively impacting sales, the Erwin plant eventually closed in 1957, but by the 1980s, collectors revived interest in the Blue Ridge pieces, and examples of the cheerful folk-art style work can now be found on several websites.
I can’t help thinking about Chevis when I see these delightful patterns. Bold and colorful, they seem so carefree—an emblem of a lifestyle so many of us wish we could enjoy. And yet, truth be told, the life Chevis lived was anything but carefree and bright. I often wonder if her work became the creative outlet she used to assuage the pain she surely bore, or to provide a therapeutic haven from the many reminders of her life’s troubles.