Welcome to the North Carolina Pottery Center, the only state-wide facility in the nation devoted solely to pottery. Designed, funded, and constructed through the labors of many citizens, the center opened to the public in Seagrove, NC, on Nov. 7, 1998.
Our mission is to promote public awareness and appreciation of the history, heritage, and ongoing tradition of pottery making in North Carolina through educational programs, public services, collection and preservation, and research and documentation.
To do so, the center represents all North Carolina potters, from Native Americans and exemplars of the old utilitarian tradition to the well over 1,000 potters working throughout the state today.
Why Celebrate North Carolina Pottery?
In his book on Wood-Fired Stoneware and Porcelain, Pennsylvania potter Jack Troy declares,
“If North America has a ‘pottery state’ it must be North Carolina. . . . There is probably no other state with such a highly developed pottery-consciousness.”
This is high praise, but it is well deserved. Where the Industrial Revolution ended the need for local craftsmen in most states, in North Carolina the potters’ wheels never stopped turning. Abundant clays, strong family networks, and a remarkable ability to adapt to new tastes and needs enabled our potters to survive hard times and once again flourish. No other state possesses such a large, diverse, and continuous heritage. Around the village of Seagrove are 100 family-operated shops and numerous others can be found across the state, notably in the Catawba Valley and around Penland in the western mountains. In a typical year, the North Carolina Pottery Center receives visitors from nearly all states and 20+ foreign countries, all of whom are here to explore this remarkable tradition.
The initial inspiration to celebrate North Carolina’s ceramic heritage came from two legendary Seagrove potters, the late Dorothy (Cole) and Walter Auman. The couple opened Seagrove Pottery in 1953, when there were only seven active potteries in the region. In 1969, they moved the old Seagrove train depot behind their shop and opened the first museum in the area, the Seagrove Potters Museum. The Aumans provided a full display of pots, tools, and historical memorabilia, as well as regular exhibits of the work of contemporary potters.
In her later years, Dorothy contracted cancer, and the Aumans sold their collection to the Mint Museum in Charlotte in order to ensure it was properly preserved. However, another local organization, the Museum of Traditional North Carolina Pottery (MTNCP), initiated the Seagrove Pottery Festival, held at the Seagrove School each year the weekend before Thanksgiving. This event eventually provided the funds to purchase a nine-acre tract and a house right in the heart of Seagrove. Then, during the late 1980s, the NC Department of Cultural Resources brought together the members of the MTNCP, the Aumans, and numerous other potters and pottery aficionados from across the state to create the North Carolina Pottery Center. This new organization formed a board of directors, established by-laws, and eventually raised nearly two million dollars to construct the center.
Through these facilities, the center provides a broad educational experience for students and teachers, potters, scholars, pottery collectors and tourists. Central to our mission is our permanent exhibition, which depicts the full history of pottery making in North Carolina, from the earliest Native Americans to contemporary sculptural forms in clay. This includes, along with hundreds of pots, detailed models of a Native American pit firing, an early earthenware kiln, and a groundhog kiln, as well as mock-ups of a potter’s shop and a 19th-century farmhouse kitchen. In addition, the center sponsors five to six changing exhibitions per year, as well as a permanent display of works by local Seagrove potters. Lectures and classes are also important. Children, taught by local potters, learn to throw pots in our education building; teachers’ programs provide course credit; and potters enjoy master classes and the opportunity to learn wood firing with our two kilns. Finally, the center helps sponsor or participates in a couple of pottery festivals across the state, such as the Catawba Valley Pottery Festival (March) and the Celebration of Seagrove Potters (November).
The center sits in an attractive, wooded lot and consists of three buildings. The remodeled Voncannon House, situated on Route 705 (designated The Pottery Highway by NCDOT), provides living space for the center’s artist(s)-in-residence, periodic interns via our ongoing collaboration with East Carolina University, and occasional presenters and other guests, as well as housing a small office for the local Seagrove Potters association. To the north, across a spacious parking lot, is the roughly 6,000 square foot main center building, which contains the permanent and temporary exhibition spaces, open storage, a gift shop, offices, a kitchen, and rest rooms. The open, well-lit interior of this building, featuring natural woods and numerous windows, is very dramatic and has won several awards for architect Frank Harmon. Nearby is the 1,500 square foot education building, with wheels, electric kilns, and other clay-working equipment. On the hillside just below the education building are two working, wood-fired kilns: a traditional groundhog and a double catenary arch kiln.