This week we continue our NC Icons series with Seagrove pottery, number 23 on Our State magazine’s 100 North Carolina Icons list. Our State writes, “Some of North Carolina’s most authentic artwork comes from the more than 100 potters at work in the Seagrove area.” The State Library of North Carolina has additional information on the history of Seagrove and the state’s recognition of its pottery tradition. And you can learn more from the Seagrove Area Potters Association.
UNC Press has four great books about North Carolina’s thriving pottery culture.
From the middle of the eighteenth century through the second quarter of the twentieth century, folk potters in North Carolina produced thousands of pieces of earthenware and stoneware—sturdy, simple, indispensable forms like jars and jugs, milk crocks and butter churns, pitchers and dishes, ring jugs and flowerpots. Their wares were familiar and everyday, not innovative or unusual, because they were shaped through generations of use for specific functions. The utilitarian forms were so commonplace and embedded in daily life that few individuals documented the craft. Turners and Burners: The Folk Potters of North Carolina, by Charles G. (Terry) Zug III was the first book to chronicle these pottery traditions, with close attention to distinct regional and temporal patterns and the major families involved. It explores in detail the traditional technologies used, from the foot-powered treadle wheel to the wood-fired groundhog kiln.
Zug became interested in North Carolina pottery in 1969 shortly after moving to Chapel Hill. In 1974 he began documenting the craft and traveled throughout the state recording the reminiscences of potters, former potters, and members of potters’ families who recalled the old craft in remarkable detail. He systematically photographed and cataloged old pots, located early shop sites, and carefully recorded the remaining waster dumps of broken shards and decaying equipment. His primary source, however, was the potters themselves. Their tape-recorded interviews provide an insider’s view of their world and reveal the powerful underlying logic and autonomy of their craft.
Classic North Carolina stoneware pots are noted for their rich textures, monochromatic glazes, and minimal decoration. The Potter’s Eye: Art and Tradition in North Carolina Pottery is a lavishly illustrated celebration of that tradition. Mark Hewitt and Nancy Sweezy trace the history of North Carolina pottery from the nineteenth century to the present day and demonstrate the intriguing historic and aesthetic relationships that link pots produced in North Carolina to pottery traditions in Europe and Asia, in New England, and in the neighboring state of South Carolina. The book includes interviews with six contemporary NC potters as well as hundreds of breathtaking color photographs that pay close attention to the shapes and surfaces of pots.
More than 400 examples–most in color–of pottery from North Carolina are showcased in North Carolina Pottery: The Collection of the Mint Museums, edited by Barbara Stone Perry. The book includes five original essays, biographical entries on the potters, information on the potteries and descriptions of the individual pieces, providing an unparalleled resource for understanding the value and heritage of North Carolina’s vibrant pottery tradition.
Raised in Clay: The Southern Pottery Tradition, by Nancy Sweezy, is a remarkable portrait of pottery making in the South, one of the oldest and richest craft traditions in America. Focusing on more than thirty potters in North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Mississippi, and Kentucky, Nancy Sweezy tells how families preserve and practice the traditional art of pottery making today.
First published in 1984, Sweezy’s book documents the last generation of potters to have direct contact with preindustrial pottery traditions. It portrays the personalities of the potters, treating this aspect as carefully as the traditions themselves, and discusses various types of wheels, glazes, and kilns and each potter’s specialty pieces. Photographs and line drawings showing potters, their potteries and equipment, examples of finished work, and step-by-step works in progress enhance the text.
Keep an eye on our NC icons tag as each week we recommend more books about North Carolina’s best features.