Weekend Pottery Festivals Compete
It’s almost that time again — pottery time. Residents from all over flock to this part of the country every fall for two spectacular festivals of potters just up a road that bears their name.
N.C. 705’s official designation as the state’s Pottery Highway grew out of a Robbins nonprofit, Northern Moore Tomorrow. The idea of so dubbing the route that winds up through clay country from just above Pinehurst and on into the Seagrove area took hold, and signs sprouted along the state road.
On either side of it are clusters of wheels spinning beneath skilled hands and fiery furnaces burning mud into ceramic wonders displayed worldwide. Every fall, on a weekend before Thanksgiving, potters assemble to offer visitors wonderlands of their work — one in an old cannery and one under canvas and in a school gym.
The fourth annual Celebration of Seagrove Potters begins Friday night, with a gala at the Celebrations site, the old Luck’s plant on the south side of Seagrove. Its participating artists have all been busily working on special pieces for the weekend, as well as on collaborative pieces to be auctioned at the Nov. 18 gala.
A second, silent auction will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.
“Last year’s event was another resounding success, drawing over 400 people to the Friday evening gala and over 5,000 folks from N.C. and multiple states to the unique festival weekend,” a spokesperson for the organizers said. “Each year the event has generated a total measurable financial impact of over $485,000.”
For more on this festival, click here.
Across town, the older Seagrove Pottery Festival marks its 30th year, with potters filling the Seagrove Elementary School gym and spreading tables of wares beneath spreading white tents outside. Click here for more information.
That event began in 1982, with potters Harwood Graves, Jack Kiser, Charlie Owen, Joe Owen, Melvin L. Owen, B.D. “Duck” Teague, Waymon Cole, Nell Cole Graves, James G. “Jim” Teague, Danny Marley, Charlie Boyd Craven and Ben Owen.
Ben Owen III and other potters who live and work along the Pottery Highway organized the Celebration of Seagrove Potters four years ago in an effort to protect “Seagrove” as a brand for traditional pottery produced in that area.
Controversy had grown out of efforts to use the Seagrove name for “a larger pottery area including portions of Randolph, Moore, Montgomery and Lee counties” — a definition espoused by Seagrove Pottery Festival sponsors but challenged by Celebration festival potters.
In August 2008, Celebration of Seagrove Potters merged with the Seagrove Area Potters Association (SAPA), a local nonprofit marketing entity that promotes, publicizes and markets the Seagrove area community of potters.
The dueling festivals resulted in a doubling of the weekend’s attraction for pottery lovers, families, tourists and others. While most of these potteries lie to the south of that village in Moore County, the town now identifies itself with an art that began in this area sometime in the 1700s.
Those first potters dug and mixed their own clay from the Uwharrie foothills, turning it on homemade kickwheels. Its fine quality had attracted these immigrant artisans, many of whom traced their lineage to Staffordshire potters in England. Some of the potters at each festival represent the eighth and ninth generations of potter families in North Carolina.
More than 200 years ago, their ancestors turned out functional kitchenware — plates for the table, candlesticks, bowls large and small, milk crocks, mugs and jugs, jars and churns — their descendants continue that tradition, but now also produce modern works of sculpture and fine art prized by collectors.
The craft declined for a time in the early 1900s when the need for stoneware food containers and whiskey jugs waned, but revival began in 1917 when Jacques and Juliana Busbee established Jugtown Pottery. Master potter Ben Owen recreated salt-glazed stoneware and other traditional orange-glazed pieces as visitors began to flock up from the Sandhills buying pottery for decorative use.
Now, every fall, tens of thousands come to see and buy pottery, watch shapes rise from wheels under potters’ hands, flock to kiln openings at any of a continually growing number of potteries in the area and enjoy one or both festivals.
The three-day Celebration festival is a showcase limited to pottery artists of the three-county corner region where Randolph, Moore and Montgomery meet. It is held indoors at the historic Luck’s Cannery, a half mile south of the traffic light in Seagrove.
Its charge for its opening event, the Friday, Nov. 18, gala is $40 in advance. The gala runs from 6 to 9 p.m. and features a catered reception, live music, and a collaborative auction. At this opening night, guests can peruse and purchase from booths, enjoy food and live jazz music and also view and bid on collaborative, one-of-a-kind pottery pieces.
Celebration festival hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, with admission each day $5 (free for children 12 and under). The Celebration dedicates a special area to children, where they can try their hands in clay and have the chance to buy specially “kid priced” pieces of pottery. Proceeds from children’s area sales go to support arts programs in Seagrove and Westmoore schools.
“The Celebration potters admire and continue the spirit of the original Luck’s Cannery — people of the Seagrove area working together to provide a future for their community,” SAPA says. “The festival offers shoppers a one-stop, indoor-shopping opportunity to purchase authentic Seagrove pottery.”
Across town, at the elementary school on the Old Plank Road, the two-day Seagrove Pottery Festival runs Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with admission $5 for each day but free for members and children under 12 with an accompanying adult.
Potters will join other traditional craftsmen in demonstrating as well as selling their wares. Its Saturday auction begins at 5 p.m., offering limited edition pottery signed and dated for this event by the potters. Potters and craftsmen from farther away than the Seagrove area show their works at this older festival. It is not limited to pottery, but includes many other traditional crafts. Call (336) 873-7887 for more information.
Both festivals offer their guests opportunities aplenty to meet and talk with artists and learn about as well as buy their work. Booth after booth — whether at Luck’s or the school grounds — offer works of striking variety in both form and function. Food vendors, often Scouts and other nonprofits, make sure nobody need go home hungry.
This section of North Carolina is home to the largest working community of potters and clay artists in the country, according to SAPA. Visitors can do more than shop. They can also participate in historical and educational demonstrations.
Contact John Chappell at email@example.com.
More like this story