Ben Owen Sr. Piece for Sale at Pottery Plus Auction
(The following is the second in a series of two stories about the 2006 Pottery Plus Auction, the annual fundraiser for the FirstHealth Hospice Foundation.)
Ben Owen the elder left Jugtown in the late 1950s to start his own pottery, but not without first making his mark as Jugtown's master potter.
With his new venture, Owen not only established one of the most recognized potteries in the country, but also a line of nationally known master potters that included his son, B. Wade Jr., and that continues to this day with grandson Ben III.
A Ben Owen piece from the Jugtown era will be offered at live auction during the 11th annual Pottery Plus Auction in October. Whispering Pines resident Fred Bentley, a longtime supporter of the Foundation of FirstHealth, donated the two-handled jar that appraiser Tommy Edwards calls "an excellent example of the sort of work that gained early Jugtown pottery acceptance among arts aficionados."
Owen's work "helped elevate Jugtown Pottery to the first rank of vernacular potteries in the Southeast, if not the entire United States," Edwards says.
According to Edwards, who owns Edwards Antiques and Collectibles in Pittsboro, it's difficult to date the donated Owen pot because the Jugtown shapes and forms were frequently repeated. But Bentley has owned the piece, which came into his household as a wedding gift from his wife's brother, for almost 60 years.
The Bentleys met in Munich, Germany, when he was in the service and she was working with the Red Cross. They were married in Paris, returned to the U.S. in 1951 and moved to Moore County in 1969. Mrs. Bentley was a native North Carolinian and very proud of the fact, her husband says.
Bentley's brother-in-law, who was a major in the U.S. Marine Corps, apparently discovered "Pottery Country" during a post-World War II assignment with Duke University.
"He wandered down in this area with his wife, visiting places," Bentley says.
Although they collected antiques, neither Bentley nor his wife was aware of the value of the Owen pot, which Edwards estimates at between $1,000 and $1,500.
"We treasured it as a gift," Bentley says.
According to Edwards, the Owen pot is a classic example of what Jugtown founder Jacques Busbee called a "Chinese translation" or interpretation of an ancient Chinese form.
"The glaze is generally referred to as 'Chinese blue,' and is the most desirable of the several glazes that were used at Jugtown prior to Ben Owen's departure," Edwards says. "The glaze is reminiscent of an ancient Chinese one and features rich tones of blue interspersed with areas of crimson. Much folklore surrounds the formula for this copper reduction glaze, which has not been very successfully reproduced in the years since Mr. Owen's passing. It is likely that a 'secret' ingredient, possibly uranium, helped him achieve the rich colors that distinguish this example."
Edwards says that there are several reasons why a pottery-lover might be interested in acquiring the Owen piece for a personal collection.
"First, simply stated, it is beautiful, an austere yet wonderful combination of form and glaze, undisturbed by unnecessary decoration," he says. "Secondly, this pot is a vase, an 'art' piece, as opposed to a piece of utilitarian ware, such as a plate, cup or saucer. Therefore, it would be a less common form and glaze. A third reason would be that this particular pot is a nice medium-sized pot of good form with an extremely variegated and richly colored glaze."
Edwards also points out an important difference between a Jugtown-era Ben Owen pot and a pot from the later Ben Owen Pottery. A Jugtown pot is more likely to have been produced by the master's hand than by one of his assistants, he says.
"This is an important distinction," says Edwards, "as Mr. Owen was the principal potter at Jugtown. But due to increasing problems with arthritis, which affected his hands and therefore his ability to turn pots, he often relied on skilled assistants to throw a good deal of the ware that was produced under his supervision at his own pottery."
More like this story
- One-of-a-Kind Local Potters Contribute Original Pieces for Annual Pottery Auction
- Owens Family Hosts Pots for the Cure to Support Cancer Research
- Seeing Red: Pottery Features Unique Crystalline Glaze
- JOHN CHAPPELL: Fall Usually Busy Season Along Pottery Highway
- McCanless Learned at the Knee of His Father