NC Pottery History

A Short History of Pottery Making in North Carolina

Pottery in North Carolina was produced in several areas of the state even before the United States came into being. Originally made of a low-fired and lead-glazed clay, called earthenware, in the piedmont area surrounding the present Winston-Salem and extending as far as Randleman, it was fashioned into a multitude of shapes. Its use faded with the discovery, in the mid-1880s, of a more pure, higher firing clay and the formulation of safer, non-toxic glazes. This clay was mined primarily in the lower piedmont region and in the Catawba valley, though a minor manufacturing centers were also established in the Fayetteville area and in Buncombe county. Pots made from this clay (called stoneware) were used mainly in the kitchen for the preparation and storage of food and drink. In the Piedmont pottery was glazed by adding salt to the firing cycle while in the Catawba valley an alkaline glaze was made from a combination of sand, crushed glass, and some clay and applied to the pottery before firing.

By the end of the nineteenth century the need for large utilitarian pots diminished after glass and tin wares gained popularity for preserving food. In order to survive, potters developed smaller, more decorative forms as well as useful pots with bright and colorful glazes. These vessels, called art pottery, were sold to tourists who came to the rural areas of the state with the advent of the motor car and through the efforts of Jacque and Juliana Busbee, owners of  Jugtown Pottery, at a tearoom that Juliana operated in Greenwich Village in New York City.

The sixties brought about a revival of folk and art pottery in the state and Jugtown, now under the ownership of Country Roads, Inc., became a leader in promoting the wares from the Seagrove area and in training a new generation of potters through their apprenticeship program.

Today a wide variety of functional and decorative pottery is produced in all areas of the state, although the geographic focus is still around Seagrove  and in the area below Newton/Conover in Catawba and Lincoln Counties.