Less than an hour away, nestled among rich farmland, you’ll find the largest concentration of working potters in the United States, along what’s called the Pottery Highway. From ramshackle buildings built by the potters themselves to modern showrooms filled with thousands of pieces, Seagrove offers enough variety to keep you entertained while you shop for everyone on your list. When you’re ready to go, this website has a map of shops, plus a handy PDF of hours and phone numbers. Here’s a rundown of a Sunday spent on the pottery highway (aka N.C. 705) during the annual Spring Pottery Tour, held last month.
Our first stop: Levi Mahan Pottery (see him at work on his Instagram).
In 2016, Levi opened his own shop in the same building that his parents built when he was a kid — his dad, Michael, runs From the Ground Up, a pottery in Robbins. There, you’ll find a mix of pieces, large and small, that are decorative and utilitarian (aka the coffee cup you’ll use every day).
The building itself, a historic cabin with a walk-around loft, is worth the stop. Find it at 1423 N.C. 705.
Up next: Keith Martindale Pottery. Keith went to art school in the early 90s, but ended up working on transmissions with his dad for decades before a bad car accident turned him back to the art. “I’m just trying to get out of work, and I still am,” he jokes.
At Keith’s shop (4296 Busbee Road) you’ll find whimsical cups and jugs, and glazes dripping with color. Notice that the cup below bears a slight resemblance to the artist.
If you catch him in the workshop, Keith has no problem letting you get your hands dirty. You just have to be able to withstand his dad jokes.
And now: Jugtown Pottery. The collection of cabins, accessed via a dirt entrance on the first left off Jugtown Road, looks like a small village. It’s the design of artists Jacques and Juliana Busbee, the founders of Jugtown, who started the collective in 1917. The Raleigh couple happened upon a dish and traced it to Moore County, where they discovered salt glazes — along with an opportunity to preserve the dying art.
There’s a museum on site (330 Jugtown Road) with pieces that date back to the early 1900s, and a look at the collective’s history. Now, Vernon Owens, hired as the Jugtown thrower in 1960, and his family now handle the day-to-day operations. He received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1994. Read more about the history here.
At this point, you might want lunch. Try Seagrove’s grocery store, Fresh Cuts. Yes, there’s only one — but it’s a total surprise. The place is packed for lunch, with hot and cold items made on the spot, and hand-cut meats with no preservatives. A lunch will run you around $5, and it comes with cake. As it should. Find it at 157 N. Broad Street.
Ok. Back on the road, to Ben Owen Pottery. This third-generation namesake potter is one of the biggest names in the Seagrove community.You’ll know you’ve arrived at 105 Ben’s Place when you see the giant kilns.
When his showroom is open, Ben keeps an eye on the counter while continuously adding clay to the larger-than-life pieces on his studio wheel. Below, Ben talks about the natural materials that made the area a draw for potters.
What about that bowl on Ben’s pottery wheel, and that giant jug you can sort of see in the background of the video? That’s part of a fountain, recently installed at Sandhills Community College’s Stone Hall.
There, now you can say you saw the work in progress.
Next: Phil Morgan Pottery. This place looks like the sort you wouldn’t escape alive, but inside it’s actually quite nice.
Phil creates his pieces by firing the kiln to 2,350 degrees to create crystals, then lowering it to around 1,800 degrees and letting them grow for eight hours.
It’s really unique stuff, but be warned: It comes with a hefty price tag.
Before we forget: Let’s introduce you to face jugs. So, there’s multiple stories about how these things originated: Some say it’s where adults kept bootleg moonshine, because the scary face kept kids away. Others say they were a part of the burial rituals of slaves throughout the South, who used them to keep evil spirits away from their loved ones.
There are multiple places to find so-called “face jugs,” but our favorites are from McKay Pottery, on the corner of Meadow Springs and Pottery roads. Ryan McKay started out in 1997 with popular stoneware, like everyday pieces and vases, before specializing in something that set him apart from the more than 100 potters in the area.
And if you want whimsy, check out Crystal King, who comes from a long line of potters. Find her shop at 2574 N.C. 705, right along the main drag.
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