Reviving Tradition: Folk Pottery in Urban Homes and Gardens in North Carolina

CeramicsCeramic arts are deeply rooted in the culture and history of North Carolina. Though much of the pottery heritage originated and evolved in Seagrove, neighboring counties picked up the tradition in later years and took part in the popularization of this fascinating folk art.

Over the past few years, North Carolina’s folk pottery has struggled for survival, with only a few historic pottery locations managing to stay in business. Apprenticeships are dwindling as younger generations of master potters are seeking other opportunities elsewhere.

North Carolina folk pottery also continues to attract local and international tourists, but more than that, a community of green thumbs in Charlotte and throughout the state is putting both historical and economic value in this fascinating tradition, maintaining a profitable market for local potters.

Folk pottery has a special place in urban and suburban gardens in Charlotte and in the hearts of many Charlotteans. Though folk pottery always struggles to compete with new art and innovative styles, the beauty of NC pottery are the forms and glazes that have been passed on to the next generation. The jug and glazed wares you buy in the North Carolina market today are the same styles their ancestors have been using since the 18th century.

In an effort to revitalize the craft and keep struggling potters in business, concerned individuals hold talks and exhibits in major cities. These individuals invest in the trade to support the potters and encourage people to buy North Carolina wares. Many show their support by emotionally investing in the folk art, using them either for utilitarian purposes, indoor décor or landscape art.

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PotteryNorth Carolina is rich in clay, particularly the Piedmont region, which the earliest inhabitants and European settlers capitalized in, mostly for utilitarian purposes. Folk pottery played a vital role in the state’s rural agricultural sector, wherein potters directly made and sold their wares to farmers who then used them to store feed, grain, and anything else. Potters also produced jugs, cups, bowls, and a plethora of rural “whimseys,” emulating the essence of “folk” tradition.

The southern influences in the patterns and glazes can easily blend with any North Carolina landscape. The grotesque expressions on face jugs and the unusual shapes of ring jugs and monkey jugs reflect the southern lifestyle. Top it off with the fact that every material used to produce the pots, from the clay to the firewood thrown in the kiln, is locally sourced.

Homeowners and garden enthusiasts, as well as tourists, are fascinated by the sense of regionalism and functionalism demonstrated by the designs. Much of the textures, palettes, patterns and shapes incorporated in Seagrove ceramics are inspired by the North Carolina landscape, with evident traces of English and German carving and glazing techniques.

From functional pottery to artistic and eclectic décor, the magically mottled colors and distinct shapes surely blend well with any landscape style. Many enthusiasts use the clay works as pots for plants or for decorating the landscape, while some use them for storage and interior décor as signature pieces in art deco-inspired homes.

New-generation potters are expanding the tradition by incorporating a contemporary flair to iconic southern forms and styles. To adapt to the modern market, these young artists use their knowledge of tradition and balance it with the needs of the times. They have learned to balance functional and decorative pottery, offering innovative interpretations while showcasing original ancestral designs.

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This has led to the development of a new, younger market for North Carolina folk pottery. Not only did it introduce Seagrove’s master craftsmen to the rest of the world, but it is also helping potter families maintain their livelihood and keep the tradition alive.