SEAGROVE AREA: A BRIEF HISTORY
Seagrove area is one of the largest communities of potters with
the longest continual history of pottery making in the United
States. Today visitors can explore the rural landscape by back
roads and visit the potters in their workshops and studios, to
witness the Seagrove potters continuing the tradition of making
pots. The area is home to more than 100 potters who offer a full
spectrum of pottery and ceramic art. With a diversity of talents,
Seagrove has something to offer both the serious collector and
the casual buyer. The
Seagrove area offers the visitor an opportunity to learn about
North Carolina's ongoing pottery culture.
history of the area begins with the abundant and diverse natural
clay deposits found in the vicinity. Native Americans were first
to discover this resource and used it for both functional and
ceremonial objects. These ancient pieces are among the most important
remaining artifacts of early civilization.
immigrant potters, mostly English and Germans, arrived in the
latter half of the 18th century. Most came to our state from Pennsylvania
and Virginia. Though information on these early immigrant potters
is sketchy, they probably settled first in the areas closest to
the Great Wagon Road, which ran from Pennsylvania to Georgia,
and then migrated from there to the Seagrove area. Potters arriving
in the Seagrove area in the 1700s were quick to realize the value
of the local clay. They first made redware, some plain and some
decorated, using clay that fired to a reddish orange color. By
sometime in the first half of the 19th century, Seagrove area
potters had switched predominantly to making the higher fired
salt glazed stoneware.
of the old Plank Road in the mid 19th century, and later the emerging
railroad system, gave potters access to even wider markets and
helped to establish Seagrove's reputation as a pottery town.
These pioneer farmer-potters forged new styles based on their
skills and artistic visions, their surrounding natural resources,
and the needs of their growing community. Today these early Seagrove
area pots are gaining international attention as their value changes
from that of utilitarian object to cultural treasure.
EARLY 20TH CENTURY
combination of modern food preparation methods and the Industrial
Revolution, with its cheaper and more available factory-made pottery,
was devastating to potters across the country. Most closed their
doors forever. Because of their remote rural location and the
local whisky distilling industry, Seagrove potters were able to
survive a few decades longer than most, but the effects of Prohibition
were crippling. Driven by economic necessity, lack of other job
opportunities, family pride, and their own love of clay, many
potters worked on against all odds.
had persisted in the Seagrove area were joined in the early 20th
century by an educated and worldly couple, Jacques and Juliana
Busbee, who appreciated the local craftsmanship and used their
considerable marketing skills to push the Seagrove area work more
into the world's view. The increase in travel by wealthier
Americans, a growing awareness of world pottery history, and the
new availability of non-local ceramic materials all contributed
to change in Seagrove pottery styles. This period in the area's
history is marked by an explosion in variety of forms and colors.
Collectors embraced this work; their patronage and their view
of pottery as more decorative than functional pushed potters to
utilize new materials and new firing methods to develop their
work further. By the late 1920s, Seagrove area pottery was well
known from the galleries of New York to the garden shops of Florida.
Thousands of these local pots have come on the secondary market
at antique stores throughout the country and are passionately
collected by many.
II ushered in a new era for Seagrove. In addition to evolving
public taste and sending a generation of potters off to war, many
of the materials for the new glazes became unavailable. By now
it was obvious that flexibility and change were essential elements
of the Seagrove tradition, and the potters were able to face the
challenges with confidence. The immediate solution was high volume
production of small pieces for the wholesale gift market. An individual
potter might produce more than 500 pieces each day, all the same
LATE 20TH CENTURY
By the 1950s,
Seagrove area potters were working as a group to promote the area,
produce exhibitions and print the first area-wide pottery maps.
This was done in a thoughtful way that paid respect to their predecessors
and laid the foundation for the current renaissance. The continued
strong support of North Carolina and its people for individual
craftsmanship helped keep the pottery industry vibrant.
and 1970s were characterized by strong social changes across America.
Both the "hippie" movement and the 1976 bicentennial
brought about renewed interest in handcrafts. Some of the old
Seagrove area pottery families continued to train their own children
or other interested apprentices, as they had for generations.
Other ways of learning to make pottery began to leave an imprint
on the area as well. The development of ceramic programs by nearby
community colleges led to the training of many area residents
in the craft. Studio artists seeking a "back to the land"
lifestyle, and academically trained potters began to settle in
the area, These new potters, like the first English and German
settlers, brought visible and constant changes to the area throughout
the entire remainder of the 20th century. Some area potters continued
the ideals and the traditions of the early Seagrove potters. Others
embraced a wider perspective of what pottery could be, not as
visibly influenced by the previous work done in the region. Yet
few would claim that they had not been enriched by the Seagrove
area's strong sense of history and tradition.
SEAGROVE AREA POTTERY COMMUNITY TODAY
A visit to
the Seagrove area potteries gives visitors an experience no gallery
can provide, which is a chance to visit with the artists in their
own environment. It doesn't take much encouragement to get
potters talking about their work, and their passion for clay is
evident. Those who have visited a pottery shop or studio in the
Seagrove area of North Carolina have learned some basic lessons
about handmade pottery. They have learned that making pottery
is much more complicated than one might think, requiring years
of practice, honing skills on the potter's wheel as well
as gaining knowledge of clays, glazes and firing techniques. They
have also learned that handmade pottery is beautiful, and seductive.
Whether utilitarian or decorative, the pieces that come from the
hands of the potter enrich the daily lives of those who take them
into their homes, and often lead to a life-long love affair with
potters of the Seagrove area are a hardworking, dedicated and
quirky bunch. The community's long ago traditions have blended
with the art of the many newer potters drawn to this special community
during the past twenty years, creating a wide variety of pottery
styles that aptly reflects the diverse vibrant pottery community
itself. Though each potter's work is quite unique, a shared
enthusiasm for clay unites them all as they contribute to the
ongoing Seagrove tradition. Potters share a camaraderie defined
by this very diversity (by valerie at tforge support). They educate and inspire one another,
help one another fire massive kilns, lend glaze ingredients, provide
assistance to one of their own in need, and support the greater
community by donating their time, talents and artwork to many
It is not
unusual to find third-generation pottery customers driving the
country roads on any given day, visiting potters that have become
old friends, as well as checking out new shops that have opened
since their last visit. The slow pace of rural life and the quiet
of the countryside are a balm for city dwellers, who return time
and again. When you come, be sure to wear a pair of comfortable
shoes. If you like, bring a picnic and help yourself to picnic
tables available at many shops. Find yourself wandering back in
time to a place where neighbors are friendly, families work together,
and people still make things by hand, from the earth, that will
last into the future. We suggest that you take time to explore
the more than 100 pottery studios and galleries of the Seagrove
area, to meet the individual potters and share one of our state's
most important cultural legacies.