Story and photo by Janet Lockerby McCoig, for www.DanTraveling.com
Seagrove,a small town south of Greensboro, has become the unofficial pottery capital of the southeast. With more than one hundred potteries operating in the area, a day in Seagrove is a pottery lover's dream. Pottery is such an important facet of the area, both historically and economically today, the North Carolina Pottery Center built an educational facility in the center of town. The Center show cases the works of potters from all across the state, and offers exhibits on historical pottery, works crafted in contemporary and modern styles,and pieces in the southern folk art tradition.
Building n a tradition that began with the earliest European settlers to the area in the 1700s, many potters are a link in a continuous chain of craft that has been passed from one generation to the next. One example of this craft heritage is the King family. Terry and Anna King are lifelong residents of Seagrove, and trained as apprentices under Dot Auman, renowned Seagrove potter and historian. During their two year apprenticeship, the Kings refined their craft until they were ready to open a pottery of their own in 1985, concentrating on the historical themes emphasized by their mentor. Creating the whimsically grotesque face jug that has become so emblematic of the southern folk art tradition is a labor of love for the couple, and as such they assign a name to each jug as they finish it. Kings Pottery has an inviting atmosphere where the visitor is encouraged to roam back to the kilns, peek into the buildings to see the works in various stages of completion, and watch the potters as they shape their pieces.
A short drive down the Pottery Highway (705) is the gallery and work space operated by the next generation of the King family, Crystal King. Learning her craft from her parents by immersion, she has been making and selling her work since her teens. Crystal has directed her southern folk art background toward creating purely decorative clay sculptures that depict political themes, animals and biblical scenes. Highly sought after, her lion sculptures are so popular as to warrant awaiting list. She exhibits great pride in her role as a member of the most long standing continuous pottery tradition in this country.
An example of a more contemporary style of pottery can be found at the Avery Pottery and Tileworks, operated by Blaine and Laura Avery. Although they use the traditional methods of mixing their own clays and glazes learned while under apprenticeship, the end result is a distinctly modern twist on the crafts of pottery and tile making. Colorful tiles and wall pieces dot the interior of the cabin that serves as the gallery and studio, these are the work of Laura. Some tile designs appear to draw from historic themes while others are modern designs with subtle, clean lines. Elegant vessels and platters made by Blaine are functional pieces of tableware with a very modern flair. Clean lines, stylized bird, turtle and fish designs and colorful geometric motifs make his work instantly recognizable.
Seagrove potters provide a glimpse into the past and a celebration of the present within the range of their works. In a time when the vast amountof products we use come mass produced from foreign countries, it is awelcome change to meet the person attached to the hands that made the cup from which one sips morning coffee.