Throwing Pots Began Early in Moore
Clay People: Faces of N.C. Pottery
While most people think of Seagrove as the home of N.C. pottery, its birthplace is located just down the pottery highway in Moore County.
For many visitors, Moore County signifies golf courses and -horses, but even those who have called the Sandhills home for years often forget about the -county's northwestern tradition that has been around longer than any -putter boy or horse farm.
Pottery, a craft once used out of necessity for utilitarian purposes, has become an integral symbol of North Carolina folk art and a supplement to the state's tourism industry, drawing thousands of visitors down N.C. 705 - the path to Moore County's turners and burners - every year.
More than 100 workshops lie along the 25-mile stretch of country road -better known as the state's pottery -highway.
The area is steeped in tradition and nostalgia for the potters of years' past, but it is also abundant with a variety of styles likely to suit everyone's tastes.
Moore County's earliest settlers -utilized the area's plentiful and unique clay deposits to mold, glaze and fire -utilitarian pieces of pottery for -themselves and their neighbors.
The area evolved into the state's -pottery capital thanks to an understood appreciation of folk art and downright gumption over the years.
Birthplace of Pottery Industry
Though Seagrove is the official -pottery capital, the birthplace of the N.C. pottery industry lies on Busbee Road, below the Moore-Randolph -county line.
Jacques and Juliana Busbee founded Jugtown Pottery in 1921. With business savvy and an eye for aesthetics, the Busbees kept the industry alive despite its utilitarian decline during the advent of mason jars and mass-produced ceramics by selling pieces at Juliana's New York City tearoom.
Bobby Owens will tell anyone that Jugtown began when Julianna Busbee picked up an orange pie plate and set out to find the person who made it.
"The orange is what really started Jugtown," he says.
Owens' brother, Vernon, now owns and operates Jugtown Pottery, and not much has changed from the days when their father, M.L. Owens, turned for the Busbees.
Vernon's son, Travis, is a fourth--generation potter who finished college at N.C. State University and soon after came home to join the family business.
"I grew up with it, and I made the -connection," Travis Owens says. "You can't help but have that in you."
Carrying on Tradition
Clay is definitely in the blood of a lot of the area's residents. Many of them can trace lines of pottery back to early settlers who utilized the area's unique deposits to make pieces for themselves and their neighbors.
Sid Luck, of Luck's Ware Pottery, -carries on the tradition of making the jugs and churns of his great-great-grandfather, William Luck. When he was 12 years old, Luck began working for J.B. Cole Pottery, one of the -original -potteries of Seagrove.
"I made so many ashtrays," he laughs, remembering the early days of his craft. "I've never considered myself an artist."
Luck says that before Jugtown, -potters couldn't even sell a flowerpot to local hardware stores.
"My family never made a living doing this," he says. "This has been a cottage industry. My family used it in farming as a crop. In the off-time, you made this."
At 63 years old, Luck has seen the area change in several ways over the years. The roads are busier and more pottery studios line the way, offering a wider variety of options far beyond the traditional pieces that Luck grew up learning to turn.
Though times have changed and the area has evolved, Luck loves seeing how th e craft thrives with so much diversity.
"I'm most supportive and excited about the new folks coming in," Luck says.
Many of the area's potters come from generations of turners and -burners, but some potters have come to the region recently, hoping to adopt the area's -traditions and offer -something new to the market.
Bobbie Thomas, of Thomas Pottery, has been in business for three years. A Moore County girl born and raised, Thomas quit her job as a computer -networking professional to give her love for clay a chance, along with her -husband, Scott.
She's still looking for her niche in the community as she tries a variety of techniques, but Thomas finds the -challenge very fulfilling.
"You think, 'Gosh, I've done it all,' and then you realize you've found there's something more. That's -exciting," Thomas says.
Thomas remembers the first time she visited Seagrove and its surrounding potters with a friend several years ago. She remembers the impact of each place - the -aesthetics, the -potters' -personalities and even the smell of the studios.
"It's something that sticks with you," she explains.
Thomas' gallery offers that same -experience to visitors, but she also takes it a step further by -offering pottery -classes for groups seeking a hands-on approach. Her goal is to allow visitors to see the time and creative effort that goes into the finished product.
Most potters in the area feel the same way about their work and the experience of -buying pottery where it was produced directly from the person who made it. Travis Owens also believes that a piece of pottery means so much more than a purchase. Each piece is unique and has history behind it.
"It's not really the same if you don't come here and see the place," Owens said.
Westmoore Pottery presents the -traditional approach that the area's early potters made.
"The first thing they did was start working with the red clay," -potter Mary Farrell says.
Mary and David Farrell met while apprenticing at Jugtown Pottery more than 30 years ago. After finding they had more in -common than just an interest in -historical pottery - styles from 1750 to 1850 - they married and set up shop a few miles up Busbee Road from Jugtown.
Some pieces from Westmoore have been featured in historical dramas, such as "The Patriot" and "Cold Mountain," due to the accuracy of the pieces to the time periods of the movies' settings.
While the Farrells and several other potters offer variations of the -traditional utilitarian pieces that put the area on the map, more and more -potters are -embracing pottery as an art form, using elaborate glazes and -striking colors.
"There's probably more pottery that isn't intended for use in the area now than there's ever been, " Mary Farrell says.
Innovation and Evolution
Will McCanless is one of those -potters. He sees his craft as the -ultimate -possibility for innovation and new -challenges.
Pieces of "Seagrove Red," crystalline glaze and hand-painted stoneware, sit on display among other styles in McCanless' gallery, located just above Union Grove Church Road.
Pottery has been in his family for years. He grew up watching his parents throw pots at Dover Pottery, but McCanless sees a line of versatility in his family, not just artisans.
"Innovation, evolution and curiosity - all these things are part of my -family- -tradition," McCanless says.
McCanless marvels at the fact that so many potters spent their entire -lifetimes trying to get the combination of firing and glaze just right, while some modern potters study chemistry to find the ideal glaze.
"Some of the greatest glazes in the world are serendipitous," he says. "[The potters] would intuitively come to the same conclusions chemically. There's some really brilliant people in the -country."
These potters are brilliant, but they're also humble about the traditions they've carried. They love sharing the story of their heritage with visitors.
Though many consider the Seagrove area to be the go-to source for North Carolina pottery, areas around Sanford and other parts of the Sandhills region also boast potters continuing what used to be widely considered a "dwelling craft" 100 years ago.
Even if you do find yourself in Moore County seeking its more obvious -amenities, take a day to go explore the path to one of North Carolina's oldest heritages. There, you'll find a thriving link to the past and a promising future in the North Carolina pottery industry.
Hannah Sharpe can be reached at (910) 693-2485.
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