Potters Rebel on Festival
The potters of Moore County and Seagrove are declaring their independence and setting up their own fall pottery festival.
Almost all -- 54 out of 60-some potters so far -- have signed a declaration of independence from the Museum of N.C. Traditional Pottery in Seagrove.
They have organized in opposition to the current leadership at the museum, withdrawn from the Seagrove Pottery Festival and are forming their own festival to run on the same Thanksgiving dates next fall.
Ben Owen III, like many in this part of North Carolina, descended from a long line of family potters. His grandfather, the first Ben Owen, became one of the most widely known of the master potters of Moore.
An exhibit of his work is currently showing at Campbell House in conjunction with paintings by Fay Terry. Both were part of last year's trip to China by a delegation to help dedicate a memorial to a fallen Flying Tiger, Lt. Robert Hoyle Upchurch of High Falls. The works on display were inspired by that journey.
Owen is joining fellow potters to move away from a museum they say has fallen under the control of those unfriendly to the local potter community.
A letter from the potters outlining their concerns is on page C2 in the Opinion Section of today's Pilot.
Owen said when a potter finds something in the clay that is unfriendly to the resulting vessel, he throws it out. Ingredients in a clay body must work together, and Owen sees in this an analogy to what he and his fellow potters are doing.
"Our forefathers came to this area more than 200 years ago with the discovery of clay that proved worthwhile for the making of pottery," Owen said. "With the consideration of different clays available in the area, they had to thoroughly test these materials to prove their ability to work effectively and be considered as an ingredient in a clay body.
"If a clay proves to have defects or imperfections and continues to pose problems, in the effort to make successful pottery, that ingredient would be removed and other ingredients would be substituted."
The museum fails that test with the way is being run and the attitude of some on its board toward potters of this historic region, he said.
"This is no different in considering the ingredients that are called potters and supporters in a community named Seagrove," Owen said. "We as potters and supporters must put our best ingredients to work and prove that we can be a vessel that will preserve itself for the next generation. Our future depends upon the voice of the potters."
This is not the kind of thing potters are used to doing, according to Owen. Potters have to divide their attention between their art and the need to market it.
They have for more than two centuries lived in an informal community bound together by their craft and the very land on which their forebears settled long ago.
That community he and others see is being threatened, so they are stepping outside their former role as suppliers and supporters, Owen said. This fall's Seagrove pottery festival will be run by potters themselves, and will be better, he said.
"One of the things we want to do at this festival is set up demonstrations," he said. "We will have potters signed up all day long, workstations set up where kids can come up, play with clay and make something. Potters know better than anybody else how a festival operates, how customers need to be waited on. They do that on a daily basis at their studios.
"One other potter said one festival set up a smaller tent with pottery only $4 or $5 apiece. They will not let adults in that tent, but kids go in and shop for pottery."
That, Owen said, is all potters are doing in rejecting museum management of what should always have been their festival.
The declaration signed by the potters says disrespectful, negative, inflammatory rhetoric coming from some with the museum seems aimed at dividing their "community of peaceful potters" and that the true allegiance of potters lies with fellow potters.
Linda Loggins, director of the Pottery Museum, said Friday that she was aware of the movement by the potters. She said that she ran the festival side-by-side with the late Richard Gillson, who founded the museum -- a man many potters still hold in high regard, according to Owen.
"We will run the festival the same way we have been running it for 26 years," Loggins said.
But Owen said others who have come after Gillson have turned his creation in a direction they find hostile.
The situation has caused them to realize the degree to which they had allowed themselves to become dependent on decisions made by the board of the museum that affect all of them financially.
Many potters have told the STEP team in Robbins how much more important it is for visitors, tourists, and lovers of the ceramic arts to visit potters where they throw their wheels and burn their pots.
Each one is individual, each has a unique vision. Following N.C. 705 -- now officially The Pottery Highway -- to see potteries is the best way to experience this traditional art of North Carolina. This fall, they will come together to stage their own festival and turn their backs on the one the museum has been operating.
"When an incompatible ingredient is identified, it must be removed," Owen said. "If it cannot be removed, we have to move on to another clay body."
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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