Fired with Finesse

In North Carolina, artisans drawing on tradition and looking to the future are creating a hot market for pottery

A potter peers through a port in his wood-fired kiln, watching a meandering river of orange flame caress hundreds of elegant pots and vases he has fashioned. He is one of a growing number of artisans reviving the North Carolina tradition of wheel-turned pottery, a craft that dates to the arrival of the Moravians in the state's Piedmont region in the 1750s. Farmers needed jugs and jars for storing and pickling, and bowls and mugs for the table.

The craft died out in most states in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when factories began turning out containers that were cheaper and often of superior quality. But in North Carolina, a few dedicated artisans kept the tradition alive by changing the market: pottery purchases became art, not merely necessities of everyday life.

Twenty-five years ago, only nine or ten potteries existed in and around Seagrove (pop. 244). Now, there are more than 90. And the $2.1 million North Carolina Pottery Center opens in Seagrove in November.

Customers travel from afar to attend kiln openings, usually held two or three times a year. Writer Jim Morrison visited several kilns in the area, chronicling the turning and firing of the wares as potters prepared for their spring openings. He noted that potters no longer are limited to working with the local clay and glazes, or producing the traditional regional forms. Many of the newer potters are academically trained and well traveled, so a range of global styles influence their work.

Get the latest Travel & Culture stories in your inbox.