Story by Tonia Stacey-Gutting
Photos by James Robinson
Generations of Seagrove potters have worked the North Carolina land since before the Revolution. Today, it is known as the only community in the United States with a 200-year continous tradition of pottery making.
"Where else in America?" says new resident Frank Neef, who moved from Missouri last year to open a gallery with his wife. "Where else will you get to live in this cluster of your peers? Respect for pottery in this state is unbelievable. You get a knowledgeable and appreciative customer base."
But even if you don't know a thing about clay, glazes or kilns, Seagrove is full of friendly potters glad to give an impromptu demonstration. At just an hour's drive northwest of Fort Bragg, repeat visits are easy and probably necessary to enjoy the numerous potteries and galleries spread over 20 miles between Pinehurst and Asheboro.
Seagrove creates a dilemma for the first-time visitor - studios are scattered down country roads and tucked in the town's back alleys. Meandering down N.C. 705, Potter's Highway, can be an adventure unto itself, but for those who like a little more planning, a good place to start is the North Carolina Pottery Center. For $2, the center gives a history of the area and displays the work of more than 80 potters. It's also worth checking the community's website, discoverseagrove.com, for a list of kiln openings, the equivalent to New York gallery openings.
But a trip to Seagrove without visiting the studios falls short. It's an easy walk from the pottery center to more than a dozen shops and studios. Seagrove Pottery, at the corner of N.C. 705 and Broad Street, is a charming shop selling local work. Up the street, the Village Pottery and other consignment galleries offer even more.
Stop in at Uwharrie Crystalline, the studio William and Pamela Kennedy opened after William taught himself the crystalline glaze process. Contrast that with Ben Owens III, a young potter and arguably Seagrove's most famous one, who is reinterpreting designs taught to him by his grandfather, a nationally known artist. Talk to David Fernandez at Seagrove Stoneware about his antique building or drop into the Turn and Burn, named for the local expression for throwing a pot on the wheel and firing it. Ask From the Ground Up potter Michael Mahan how he prepares the clay.
Some potteries are owned by families who have been working in the area for generations and many will be working on pieces as you shop. Take home a reproduction of a Civil War mug that local potters made for soldiers when tin ran low. Admire a sink with crystals fanning across it like blossoming flowers, a tiny tea set for the little girl within, a berry bowl for your kitchen counter, or a collector's vase.
A piece becomes a treasure when you know the history, meet the maker, see the process and make an experience of the acquiring.