Seagrove, a Pottery Paradise

Seagrove, a Pottery Paradise

Avery Pottery & Tileworks

Quite simply, Seagrove and the uniquely named hamlets which surround it in rural Randolph County are the perfect place for anyone interested in pottery.

Far from being a mere collection of shops, Seagrove actually refers to a region of artisans that has made the area the nation’s largest community of potters. 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.

The area’s famous 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 about 1900, pottery in the area and elsewhere had almost vanished.

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 and a surge in demand in recent decades has brought the total number of resident craftspeople to more than 90.

Though the annual Seagrove Pottery Festival is in November, spring and summer can also be good times to visit the potters without the press of seasonal holiday buyers.

There is a broad sampling of works representing the majority of the artisans in the surrounding region at the I-73/74 Visitors Center – Northbound, just one mile south of Seagrove. This is both useful and important, since, after a quick perusal of the map available at the visitors center, it quickly becomes apparent that visiting all 70-plus shops and studios is a futile endeavor.

Perhaps the best place for you to start is at the North Carolina Pottery Center located at 250 East Ave. in Seagrove. Here, you can get a quick education in the roots of the craft from interpretive displays, which are both permanent and temporary.

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 await your visit. 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 you 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 area, a tremendous variety of functional items, and artistic works.

If you’re staying overnight, Seagrove does feature two bed and breakfast inns. In addition, nearby Asheboro, home of the North Carolina Zoo, houses a wide range of accommodations and a variety of restaurants. Seagrove is approximately 20 miles south of Asheboro, at the intersection of U.S. Highway 220 and North Carolina Highway 705.

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