Arts & Artisans
Seagrove: A Pottery Paradise
Ever had a hankering for a total immersion in the potter’s craft, even if you don’t know salt-glazed from celadon? Seagrove and the uniquely named hamlets which surround it in rural Randolph County are the perfect place for you.
Far from being a mere collection of shops, Seagrove actually refers to a region of artisans. Part of Seagrove’s allure lies in its singular history and high concentration of potters. The other part, especially for the uninitiated, lies in the experience itself.For this reason, a sampling of its wares can feel more like a treasure hunt in which the seeker wanders the back lanes, groves and fields of the beckoning Piedmont countryside, taking in some three centuries of craftsmanship and folklore. Each successive studio becomes the grail, and merely finding them tucked away amid the barns and woodlots can be half the fun.
The town’s future may have been preordained in the late 1700s, when Colonial potters began to fashion earthenware goods – including jugs, crocks, pots and storage jars – from the local red clay. But technology played its trump card with the rise of the American glass industry during the century that followed. By 1900, pottery was moribund.
Then in 1920, a Raleigh eccentric named Juliana Busbee helped to revive the art form by hiring locals to supply her establishment with handcrafted wares. Extinction was averted. A surge in demand in recent decades has brought the total number of resident craftspeople to more than ninety.
Though Seagrove’s annual Pottery Festival is in the fall, spring too can be a good time to visit the potters, without the press of seasonal holiday buyers.
Perhaps the best place to start is at the North Carolina Pottery Center located at 250 East Avenue in Seagrove. Here, the visitor can get a quick education in the roots of the craft from interpretive displays, both permanent and temporary.
In addition, there is a broad sampling of works representing the majority of the artisans in the surrounding region. This is both useful and important, since, after a quick perusal of the map available at the center, it quickly becomes apparent that visiting all 90-plus shops and studios in the course of a single day is likely a futile endeavor.
Though it’s natural to begin in the town, make sure your route takes you into the surrounding countryside where hamlets with names like Erect and Whynot lie in repose. Potters of national and international renown, who trace their craft bloodlines back through as many as nine generations, inhabit these unlikely places where ricks of wood are often the telltale sign of the family kiln.
Doing research online, too, can help the casual pottery enthusiast have a more focused experience. However, potters are experimenters by definition, so it’s best to bring an open mind into each studio.
North Carolina pottery is both a constantly evolving and highly varied organism. It includes traditional jugs with human features, which gave the name “Jugtown” to the region, a tremendous variety of functional items and artistic works.
Don’t be shy about asking questions, even if the person ahead of you appears to be speaking in an argot of glaze ingredients and gradations called “cones.” Even the most reticent of the local craftspeople tend to open up when talking about their art.
For the overnight guest, Seagrove does feature bed & breakfasts as well as local restaurants. In addition, nearby Asheboro houses a wide range of accommodations. Seagrove is approximately 20 miles south of Asheboro, at the intersection of US 220 and NC 705.
added: December 4, 2008
updated: May 14, 2009