Clay People: Throwing Pots Began Early in Moore County
The following is the first of two stories about the 15th annual Pottery Plus Auction, which this year will benefit FirstHealth Hospice & Palliative Care and the construction of the Hospice Chapel on the new Hospice House campus.
There are no “his,” “hers” or “ours” labels on the pottery wheels at Fireshadow Pottery, but there might just as well be.
The three wheels in the Fireshadow studio, filled from floor to ceiling with pots waiting to be glazed and fired, indicate both the independent thought and mutual respect that characterize the shared life and work of Sally Larson and Mo McKenzie.
Theirs is a partnership in every aspect of the word.
“We use each other to say, ‘Does this look good?’” Larson says.
“We respect the opinion, but we don’t have to react to it,” McKenzie counters.
As the Chairman’s Choice potters for the 15th Annual Pottery Plus Auction, Larson and McKenzie have created a stunning green pot especially for the Oct. 2 FirstHealth Hospice Foundation fundraiser. The piece is only one in a long list of personal and professional collaborations for this unusual couple.
“It’s part of our relationship,” says Larson, “working on projects.”
For several years, one of those projects has involved the FirstHealth Hospice Foundation and the Pottery Plus Auction.
“We’ve been donating to the Hospice auction for about seven years, and have always felt honored that the Hospice Foundation has chosen the Seagrove potters to partner with them in raising money for this great service in Moore County,” they say.
“The volunteers who have gone out and approached the potters have been wonderful to work with, and show a special respect to the potters when they are able to buy a piece from us while we donate a matching one. It always feels that we all have benefited.”
A rutted dirt road leads the visitor to the 244 Falls Drive address of Fireshadow Pottery in Eagle Springs. Although only 15 minutes outside of Pinehurst, the place might as well be on the far side of the moon from the bustle and business of the world-renowned golf village.
Larson and McKenzie have made their home and operated their pottery here since 1999, two years after they decided to go into the pottery business. They sold pots from their front porch until they added a showroom to the pastoral commune they have since built on 31 acres of Moore County farmland.
Various dogs, both residential and visiting, trail their master and mistress from house to barn to studio to koi pond to covered barbecue/picnic area as a Foghorn Leghorn wannabe noisily refutes the theory that roosters crow only at dawn. Visitors are told that there is also a cat on the place, but it has chosen to trade the humidity of a mid-June morning for a lazy nap in the house.
Tucked away and also out of sight are beehives and a garden.
Larson and McKenzie say they grew up at a time when every house had a backyard, and every backyard had children playing in it.
“This, to me, is an extension of that,” McKenzie says.
“It lets us hold on to the child feeling of play,” says Larson.
The Business at Hand
This adult playground is also a business, however, and the business of record involves creating and producing one-of-a-kind pottery. Ironically, neither Larson nor McKenzie had ever had anything to do with the pottery business until they became a couple, but they shared a creative drive that they wanted to develop.
McKenzie had previously been a woodworker and commercial photographer while Larson, a Connecticut native who has lived in the area for 20 years, tended toward the more homespun pursuits of wool-spinning and -dyeing, weaving, gardening and sewing.
“We both came from creative backgrounds,” she says, “and we wanted to work together.”
Once they decided to direct their creative instincts toward pottery, they signed up for classes at Montgomery Community College, but quickly “felt restricted” by the demands of traditional production pottery. Striking out on their own and recognizing the seeming limitlessness of clay, they adopted an “exploratory process” to come up with “new ideas and shapes.”
They use local clay, from STARworks in Montgomery County, for their “distinctive ceramic art,” and have developed all of their glazes, including their signature Fireshadow Red, from scratch. They are fascinated by the inherent potential of clay.
“There are unlimited things you can do with clay,” says Larson. “It’s a matter of developing your skills.”
Although they share studio space, and occasionally the same pottery wheel, Larson and McKenzie work independently and silently except for the background drone of a book on tape.
The result is a product they characterize as “primitive elegance.”
“We use the same glazes so everything goes well together,” Larson says. “It really works well.”
On their website, McKenzie, a Robeson County native who claims to have spent decades “fleeing from boredom … in the military, on a ranch, as a photographer, cruising the Caribbean, tending bar, and so on,” describes himself as a “child with an ever-changing toy.”
Their showroom attests to a variety of interests and styles — from traditional pots with their recognizable Fireshadow handle to elongated faces with attitude, and Larson’s hand-built slab-work and self-described “Botanicals.”
The two worked together to develop a marketing plan to lure collectors to their off-the-beaten-path location. One of those collectors is Seven Lakes resident Suzanne Meyer.
“You must go out to their place,” she says. “But be forewarned: To see their work is to own their work. While there might be some similarities in some of their pieces, you will not find two items exactly alike. This is where I get into trouble. I will see something, know it will never be there again, and the piece goes home with me. I have indoor pieces, outdoor pieces … I have two of Mo’s ‘mushrooms’ in my herb garden.”
Keith and Georganne McDaniel, of Green Gate Olive Oils in Pinehurst, are also longtime collectors and fans.
“The thing we like best about their work is how it continues to evolve,” they say. “Each time we visit their studio we see a new design or a new glaze they have created. We are always amazed by what they do, and we continue to look for a little more space in our home to add yet another piece by Sally or Mo to our collection of their beautiful work.”
Prospective collectors of Fireshadow’s “primitive elegance” can visit the showroom Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Larson and McKenzie hold a kiln opening the third week of each April, and they also participate in events held in neighboring Seagrove.
A peek inside their studio will usually reveal numerous pieces in varying stages of completion.
“When our tables get full, we glaze and fire,” says Larson.
“We’re just about there,” says McKenzie.
Brenda Bouser works for the corporate communications office of FirstHealth of the Carolinas.
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