Far from being a mere collection of shops, Seagrove actually refers to a region of artisans that has made the area one of the nation’s largest communities 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 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 100.
Seagrove's signature event – the annual Seagrove Pottery Festival, held the weekend before Thanksgiving – has been a staple for more than 35 years. The largest pottery community in the U.S. comes together with traditional craftspeople to sell their wares during the two-day festival. (Please note: The 2021 event has been canceled due to COVID-19.) And for the past decade, the Celebration of Seagrove Potters also takes place that weekend, including a Friday night gala. Then just as the weather warms, the Spring Pottery Tour, in mid-April, features more than 50 local potters hosting special events, offering studio tours, demonstrations and selling their pottery.
No matter when you visit, there's a broad sampling of works representing the majority of the artisans in the surrounding region at the Interstate 73/74 Visitors Center – Northbound, just 1 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 90-plus shops and studios is a futile endeavor.
Perhaps the best place for you to start is at the North Carolina Pottery Center 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 such as 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 inns: Seagrove Stoneware Inn & Pottery and The Duck Smith House Bed & Breakfast. In addition, nearby Asheboro, home of the North Carolina Zoo, houses a wide range of accommodations and a variety of restaurants. Seagrove is about 15 miles south of Asheboro, at the intersection of U.S. Highway 220 and North Carolina Highway 705.