On a recent visit to North Carolina I spent a day exploring the countryside, stopping along the way at some of the most fascinating little pottery shops you can imagine. For some of the potters, the work dates back several generations and their technique learned while they were still children. For others, the craft started as a hobby but grew into a way of life. The potters all know each other. The potters all help each other. The potters are a large network of “family”. Each talented in their craft with their own definite style and technique.
North Carolina is home to the largest concentration of working potters in the United States. You can enjoy your day on a self guided driving tour, stopping at a few or stopping at each one you pass. Within a 20 mile radius there is almost 100 shops to visit. Each shop and property also houses the tools of the potters trade – clay, wheels and ovens – some new – some modern – but the most fascinating ones are the ones handed down from generation to generation. Many of the potters, with the help of modern technology, have formulated their own clay mixes, colors and techniques.
The most fascinating stop on my tour was at Owens Pottery. Owens Pottery is the oldest pottery shop in North Carolina specializing in traditional and decorative pottery using a special “Owens red” and other original family glazes. The current potter/owner, Boyd Owen, is a character too! You can hear the pride in his voice as he talks about his family history and how their pottery has remained an important part of pottery history since 1895.
I could have listened to him for hours as he told stories of his grandfather and father and how he learned his craft. Watching him work and seeing him transform a lump of clay into a bowl or a dish within minutes had me in awe of the craft. A craft that is being lost to modern technology.
Each piece he creates is still baked in an oven built years and years ago by Boyd’s ancestors. And – he creates thousands and thousands of pieces – all by hand.
The signature “Owens Red” is a secret recipe to color the clay and with it, the potter creates many pieces that stand out as immediately coming from his workshop.
At each property you stop you will most likely be greeted by the potters themselves. Seagrove offers a range of pottery, from functional everyday use, sculptural, folk art, to historical forms from the past.
Another favorite of mine along the trail was McKay Pottery run by a young potter who creates “face pottery.” His designs are amazing (and I admit – just a little creepy!) Each piece is created by hand.
Some of the younger potters along the trail that have gone out on their own from the original family businesses or who took to pottery on their own, are using different forms of color and clay mixing using modern technology to create stunning pieces that blend different clay colors together.
We were only able to get in a small number of places to visit because each one we visited was so interesting it was hard to leave. I would definitely recommend spending two days in the area to visit as many pottery shops as possible. Seagrove, NC holds a signature event each year the weekend before Thanksgiving – the annual Seagrove Pottery Festival. All of the potters in the area come together to sell their creations during the two-day festival. And for the past decade, the Celebration of Seagrove Potters also happens that weekend, including a Friday night gala. Then just as the weather warms, the Celebration of Spring, in mid-April, features more than 65 local potters hosting special events, offering studio tours, demonstrations and selling their pottery.
No matter when you visit, there’s a large sampling of works representing the majority of the potters in the surrounding region at the Interstate 73/74 Visitors Center – Northbound, just one mile south of Seagrove. This is both useful and important, since, after a quick look at the map available at the visitors center, it quickly becomes apparent that visiting all 65-plus shops and studios is a futile endeavor unless you plan to spend several days. Each potter you visit also has a small shop where you can purchase their pieces.
Make plans to spend a day or two to discover Seagrove and experience the diversity of North Carolina pottery. Seagrove is open year around! Visit anytime!
I was provided an all expense paid trip by Travel Media Showcase and The Heart of North Carolina Visitors Bureau/Randolph County Tourism Development Authority. All opinions are my own. #HeartofNC #VisitNC #VisitSeagroveNC #Hosted #Travel #FamilyTravel