My horoscope yesterday said: “You can’t take it with you. Nice things make you smile. Wait until you can afford the best brand or most desirable model.” I don’t generally put a lot of stock in horoscopes, unless of course they suit me. This one was a no-brainer, except perhaps “wait until you can afford.” Ahem.
I’d been planning for a few weeks to head west to Seagrove, N.C., billed as the largest community of working potters in the United States. The clay-rich area in central North Carolina, about an hour and half from where we live in Apex, is home to dozens of potters of all kinds, and many are second- or third-generation artists. Thanks to Facebook and the Interweb, I’d found one studio I’d wanted to visit in particular. Turns out that’s all I had time for, which was good for my wallet and harmony on the home front. (Thanks, honey!)
Now, I do not *need* any more pots. But can you really have too many beautiful things — material or not — that make you smile? I think not. Yes, there’s a fine line between collecting and hoarding. If there’s a 12-step program for buying pottery, I should probably be in it, but I’m not ready to admit I have a problem. And as someone who took a beginning pottery course 3 times (2 at Duke and 1 at N.C. State), I can attest to how difficult it is, how much time and patience it takes, and how sweet it can be to see the finished, often completely suprising results fresh out of the kiln.
This weekend (April 21-22) is the spring kiln opening celebration in Seagrove. There’s another one in the fall that I hope to attend when I have more time and, you know, maybe, money. But it’s fun just to look at the wares, to take in the artists’ craftsmanship and dedication, thinking maybe some of it will rub off in any area of life. Pottery has a rich historical tradition in North Carolina, and I am glad it is still very much alive. (Reason #1,001 why it’s good to be back in the Old North State.)
I had not been to Seagrove in more than 10 years, and I enjoyed the route that Shirley (affectionately and cursedly known as my GPS device) took me on. I wound up, down and around 2-lane ribbons of highway through rolling green hills, past cow pastures, dodging hard-core bicyclists, coiled-up black snakes that didn’t quite make it across the road and a gaggle of unidentified birds (I braked just in time).
I visited the studio of Eck McCanless, a second-generation potter. His agateware caught my eye in pictures on his Facebook page and Web site — I couldn’t recall ever seeing anything like it. Eck’s pots look like Breyer’s vanilla fudge twirl ice cream, and the pots are just as sweet. He also specializes in gorgeous crystalline ware, with glazes as sparklingly brilliant as the forms. Eck was at his wheel Saturday, demonstrating how he carves patterns in the thrown bowls, vases, cups and plates. The agateware, a style that apparently originated in England, is made from different kinds of clay wedged together for a marbled effect.
Using a variety of tools, Eck carves and whittles the outsides of the pots, creating swirls and striations. He does this when the pots are leather hard, after they’ve dried overnight. At Eck’s urging, another customer and I tried our hands at carving — not easy. She carved right through a pot, bless her heart, and I made tentative, uneven zigzags down the side of a cup. Like a lot of Seagrove potters, Eck has been doing it so long that he makes it look easy. He whittles the clay as if it’s wood. Pottery is quite a seductive art, and I don’t mean in a “Ghost” kind of way.
After a torturous perusal of the shop, I picked out a bowl and a small vase. I like the bowl because you can really see the 3 kinds of clay on the inside. And the vase is a nice representation of the carving. Eck’s wife, Rhonda, who was pricing pots and running the till, asked me, “Are these gifts?” Uh, no. Unless it’s ok to say they’re a gift to their brethren scattered in our china hutch and beyond.
I didn’t make it to Jugtown, or Ben Owen’s studio, or Donna Craven’s. But I think I chose well in visiting Eck’s studio. A thing of beauty is truly a joy forever, and it’s a joy to watch dedicated craftsmen make their art and share it with the world.