October 31, 2014

Seagrove Pottery

A suggested itinerary for a weekend trip to the Seagrove, North Carolina, potteries

North Carolina is home to several very old and rich traditions of folk pottery – those of the Cherokee and Catawba Indians, of the Catawba Valley in the central piedmont, of the Moravians around present-day Winston-Salem, and other communities — each of which has fascinated generations of travelers, collectors, and scholars. The sandhills region of North Carolina’s southern piedmont is home to a thriving pottery industry, widely known as the Seagrove tradition. A fortuitous combination of history and geology made the area around Seagrove, a Randolph County crossroads town on the Moore and Montgomery County lines, the cradle of one of the South’s most distinctive and popular forms of folk art. In the late eighteenth century, the piedmont drew potters because of the quality of the region’s clay, both the red clay that lies near the surface of the ground, which they used for earthenware pottery, and a gray clay found deep in creek beds, ideal for making sturdier stoneware. At the middle of the nineteenth century, the great Plank Road was built from Fayetteville to Salem, passing right through the sparsely populated sandhills and linking more efficiently the potters of Randolph, Moore, Chatham, and Montgomery Counties to a wider market that had need of good housewares, and encouraging the growth of the industry.

In this fertile environment, local families saw multiple generations of skilled potters who worked in cooperation, competition, and aesthetic conversation with one another. Today, descendants of those families – Cole, Owen, Owens, Craven, Luck, Chriscoe, Teague, and several others – carry on their ancestors’ work. In the last thirty or so years these families have been joined by dozens of potters from other places, who have set up shop and become part of the Seagrove tradition. By some estimates there are nearly one hundred active potteries – which usually consist of a workshop, kilns, and a separate showroom and store — within just a few miles of downtown Seagrove. This tour will carry you to several potteries along and near Route 705, the official “North Carolina Pottery Highway,” in Seagrove-proper as well as in the pottery-rich communities of Whynot and Westmoore. The destinations described below include some – but by no means all – of the potteries operated by descendants of those earliest families. This itinerary is not to be considered a comprehensive list of the area’s most traditional potteries, but rather a sampling. Give yourself a whole day – or better yet, a weekend – to explore the Seagrove area, so you can stop at many potteries, old and new. (Keep in mind that the North Carolina Pottery Center and many of the individual potteries are closed on Sunday.) There is a great deal going on in this creative community, and by stopping at lots of pottery shops, and speaking to the artists – who, if they are not at the wheel, are often more than happy to discuss their work — you will get a taste of the creative diversity and energy that exists within the Seagrove tradition.

A few words on pottery-shop etiquette. Many potters’ workshops are located behind their showrooms, easily accessible to the visitor. The artists will often be glad to show visitors where they work, but it is essential to ask permission before venturing beyond the showroom. The work spaces are not only a creative zone where the artists may require privacy, but are also the location of heavy equipment, strong chemicals, and at times, of course, fire. Adults as well as children must be careful in these areas, and only explore them with permission. Similarly, artists usually don’t mind if visitors photograph their pottery, but it is important to ask before doing so.

Seagrove is about two hours’ drive southwest of Raleigh. Located on Route 220, 15 miles south of Asheboro, Seagrove is easily accessible from such major highways as 64 and 73. There are plenty of major motels in Asheboro. Seagrove has a bed-and-breakfast, the Duck Smith House on Broad Street, and there are also accommodations available in nearby Biscoe, to the south. You will have several restaurants to choose from along and near this route, including the Jugtown Cafe, a few miles to the north on 220-A, the Seagrove Family Restaurant, located on 220 downtown, and the Westmoore Family Restaurant, on 220 at Dover Church Road in the Westmoore community.

Photo: Potter Vernon Owens at work; photo by Cedric Chatterley; teapot by M. L. Owens, photo by Tom Jackson; chicken by Westmoore Pottery, photo by Tom Jackson.

To learn about Cole’s Pottery in Sanford, click here.

Continue the tour by selecting the next stop on the menu to the right.