From Ancient Craft to Contemporary Artistry
North Carolina, particularly the region known as the Seagrove area, boasts a rich and storied pottery tradition. For generations, the state’s potters have skillfully combined local clays, traditional firing methods, and diverse building techniques to create pottery pieces that are not just functional but also works of art. Let’s embark on a journey through time to trace the evolution of pottery in North Carolina.
Ancient Roots and Indigenous Communities
Long before European settlers arrived in North Carolina, indigenous tribes were crafting pottery from local clays. These tribes, including the Catawba and Cherokee, utilized coiled construction methods to shape their pottery. Pieces were usually hand-built and served utilitarian purposes, like storage and cooking.
The clays from the Piedmont region, especially around the Seagrove area, were particularly favored due to their plasticity and firing properties. These were primarily earthenware clays, which have a porous structure and are abundant in the region.
European Influence and the Advent of the Potter’s Wheel
With the influx of European settlers during the 18th century, pottery in North Carolina began to undergo significant transformation. English and German potters introduced the potter’s wheel, a revolutionary tool that allowed for more consistent and symmetrical forms.
These immigrant potters also brought with them a tradition of salt-glazed stoneware, shifting the focus from the previously predominant earthenware. Stoneware clays, when fired at higher temperatures, become vitrified and non-porous, making them ideal for liquid storage.
Wood-Firing and Groundhog Kilns
Central to the pottery tradition in North Carolina is the wood-firing technique. Potters have historically used locally sourced wood to fire their kilns, imparting a unique character to the pottery, thanks to the ash and flame’s unpredictable nature.
The groundhog kiln, a type of tunnel kiln dug into a hillside, became the favored firing structure in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Its design was efficient, allowing for consistent and prolonged high-temperature firing, which was essential for stoneware.
Modern Revivals and Current Methodologies
The 20th century saw a renewed interest in North Carolina pottery, with Seagrove becoming a hub for both traditional and contemporary potters. While traditional forms and methods continued, there was also experimentation with different clay bodies, including porcelain, and novel firing methods like gas and electric firing.
Today, potters in North Carolina continue to honor the rich traditions while embracing contemporary techniques and styles. Hand-building techniques like slab construction, pinching, and coiling are used alongside wheel-throwing. Alternative firing methods, including raku and pit firing, have been incorporated, adding more dimensions to the craft.
The history of pottery in North Carolina is a testament to the adaptability, creativity, and resilience of its artisans. From the ancient earthenware of indigenous tribes to the diverse range of techniques employed today, North Carolina’s pottery tradition is a captivating blend of past and present, making it an integral part of the state’s cultural fabric.