North Carolina’s pottery tradition stems from the very makeup of its geography: lots of clay. While the clay-laden soil may be a challenge for gardeners, it also provides a rich supply of artistic material. The use of local clay has been part of our history for a long time, with pottery shards dating back to 1000 B.C. Now, very few potters still dig their own clay, but nonetheless, a strong community of clay artists lives on this section of clay earth.
Mitchell and Yancey county potters are as plentiful as they are successful. Collectives such as Potters on the Roan and Spruce Pine Potters Market unite artists who live and work in these areas. They provide platforms to keep the regional traditions of clay strong.
Notably, Spruce Pine Potters Market is a destination event where regional potters sell their wares in the Cross Street Building in downtown Spruce Pine. The show hosts approximately 30 potters in a range of forms and styles. Attracting collectors, tourists and curious browsers, the pottery ranges from functional to sculptural to subtle to bold.
Although the artists must be from nearby regions, there are select ceramic crafters from outside the two counties that are invited to participate. This year, Asheville potter Karen Newgard is one of the guest participants. Newgard makes functional decorative work using the process of sgraffito to create striking surface designs.
“I love all the work done by the potters exhibiting in the show, so when I was asked to be a visiting artist, I jumped at the chance,” says Newgard. “Not only to be surrounded by such great pots, but to have a weekend of conversations with people who are interested in pottery.”
Jeannine Marchand of Spruce Pine uses clay to create elegant sculptural forms that reference the folds and shapes of silken fabric. She is invested in the material and explores its versatility. “I've had clay in my life since I was 7 years old, and everything I make, or have made, has been created because of an ongoing dialogue with the material,” says Marchand.
Courtney Martin, exhibiting artist from Bakersville, makes functional dinnerware with bold motifs. “Handmade pottery is a pleasure to use,” she says. “Eating off of something handmade and beautiful is as important to me as the food itself.”
Chefs and foodies would probably agree that the presentation and plating of the food is just as integral to the dining experience.
The joint efforts of artists in the pottery community have sustained the region’s presence as a destination for earthenware. Martin shares, “I find a lot of value in being part of such a strong and supportive community — there’s real camaraderie between potters. And if I run out of a material, I can always call a neighbor — like asking for a cup of sugar!”
what: Spruce Pine Potters Market
where: Cross Street Commerce Building, 31 Cross St., Spruce Pine
when: Saturday, Oct. 12 and Sunday, Oct. 13 (10 a.m.-5 p.m. http://SprucePinePottersMarket.com)