Farmers Day Pottery Auction Showcases Area's History
By Summer Hennings
Local potters are spinning their wheels in preparation for the Farmers Day Pottery Auction.
The annual auction, in its 20th year, takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 5, on the Railroad Stage after the Fine Blue Line bluegrass band's performance.
Every year, potters from the west Moore County and Seagrove areas donate pieces to raise money for the Robbins Volunteer Fire Department.
Jarius Garner, Farmers Day organizer and Robbins fire chief, says the funds raised allow the fire department to buy equipment they normally could not purchase without raising taxes.
So far almost 30 potters will participate in this year's auction but more will likely sign up. Each donates individual pieces showcasing distinct styles, and some design a piece specifically for the event.
"Each piece is unique each year," Garner says.
Original Owens Pottery always contributes a commemorative plate painted with the official Farmers Day logo to the auction. Jane Demay, who paints pottery at Original Owens, designs the plate every year.
"The plate corresponds to that certain year so it's going to be different every year," Demay says. "That way each plate has its own character.
Demay says Original Owens is one of the few places that still paints designs on pottery. She tries to match the colors and design used in the Farmers Day T-shirts to the plate. Original Owens began making the plate because it wanted to go a little further and create a piece that would raise more money for the fire department.
"(Demay) puts a lot of time into (making the plate)," potter Boyd Owens says. "That's devotion on her part. It's not about who made the plate as much as the artwork."
Jean and Fred Teague, of Teague's Frogtown Pottery, also donate a piece to the auction every year. They focus on traditional, functional dinnerware, such as pieces used in the kitchen opposed to decorative work.
Although she has not decided what piece to send this year, Jean says she likes to send a large piece that will earn more money for the fire department. In the past, most people enjoy Frogtown's pottery designed with six colors or glazes in a pinwheel shape.
Jean believes the auction and Farmers Day provide an opportunity to spread awareness about pottery. With so many people coming to Robbins for the festival, she thinks someone new will hear about the pottery shops.
"It does advertise for us," Jean says, "but the fact that it helps the firemen is the reason we like to (participate) because we never know when we might need them."
Mary Farrell, of Westmoore Pottery, agrees. As potters, she and her husband, David, know they need a fire department because they always work with fire.
"We haven't had a fire yet," Mary says. "We did at one point help put out a neighbor's fire."
Mary usually tries to submit a piece to the auction that has a style traditional to the area - Westmoore Pottery's specialty. She and her husband make pieces made or used in the 18th or 19th centuries. Many museums use their pieces as replicas of original works. This year, she plans to submit either a butter churn or a sauerkraut jar.
"I wish everyone would come out and support the auction because the money goes to a good cause," Mary says. "It's going to the fire department ... and not just in Robbins. If there's a big fire, (all the local departments) help out."
Seagrove's history goes back to the early 1700s when potters immigrated to the area because of the high-quality, natural clay deposits in the area. Early settlers used the clay to make utilitarian pieces for their families and neighbors.
Today, that history has evolved into the "Pottery Capital of North Carolina." More than 100 potters now live and work along N.C. 705, better known as the pottery highway. The area draws thousands of visitors every year looking to purchase a piece of history that has been passed down through centuries.
With such deep roots in the area, potters see the pottery auction as a way to give back to the communities in which their families have lived for generations. However, with the present economy, the auction has taken in less money.
Fred Teague has noticed that the pottery business itself has been hit hard by the recession and changing times. Like many local potters, including Owens, Fred's trade has been passed down through his family. He still has the ledger book his grandmother kept with dates from the 1800s.
"Back then, everybody used pottery," Fred said. "Pottery was a big thing. Everyone had to have it. Now everyone doesn't have to have it."
Seagrove and West Moore pottery may face a rough future, but the population can look to their past to find solace. Industrialization at the turn of the century caused people to pass over handmade pottery for the cheaper, mass-produced kind. Rather than close, many potters adapted, and pottery became an art form.
The art of pottery making now draws shoppers and new potters to the area. Those challenges allowed the area's pottery to grow to encompass a wide variety of forms, glazes and artists. The Farmers Day Pottery Auction showcases the mix of styles now evident in Seagrove and west Moore pottery.
To prepare for the auction, potters will simply keep doing what they do best - throwing, spinning and molding the clay they grew up with or grew to love.
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