The Seagrove Pottery Experience
Piedmont artisan area is a dream come true for pottery loversBy Leah Chester-Davis
The Piedmont’s rural areas warrant day trips just to see their shimmering lakes, bucolic meadows and appealing farmsteads. Add in the wonders of Seagrove, with the largest concentration of working potters in America, and you have a must-visit destination to explore.
Seagrove, a small town about 15 miles south of Asheboro, is known as the handmade pottery capital of the United States. The region, encompassing parts of Montgomery, Moore and Randolph counties, boasts roughly 50 studios and galleries within a 15-minute or so drive, with more pottery sites a bit further away. Some potters are located in the Seagrove town limits, while others have workshops that dot the surrounding countryside and neighboring communities.
Visiting their unique studios becomes like a progressive dinner of sorts. Instead of driving from house to house for food courses, you drive from studio to studio to feast your eyes on beautiful ceramics. Some locals have works at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., or in private collections worldwide. But whether you’re a serious collector or simply partial to locally made items, you can see a wide range of styles, techniques and wares, from the folk tradition to high-brow ceramic art.
A good place to start any visit is the North Carolina Pottery Center (233 East Avenue), which promotes the history and ongoing tradition of the state’s pottery making. Its light‑filled, impressive structure, home to permanent collections, exhibitions and a gift shop, showcases creations from locals and other NC artisans. Nearby is an education building with wheels, electric kilns and other clay-working equipment. Wood-fired kilns outside give visitors an idea of different methods used. The Center’s admission fee is $2.50 for adults; $1 for students 13 and up. It’s open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Maps to local pottery sites are kept inside and out front.
Most potter studios are open year-round, with special events held throughout the year. You can learn about them by visiting the websites (left) and getting on potter mailing lists. While Seagrove is fun any time, the region’s annual Celebration of Spring is the perfect time to enjoy the “greening up” season. The highways and byways are flush with fresh color, and the dogwoods and redbuds are in bloom. During this year’s Celebration, set for Saturday and Sunday, April 21 and 22, more than 50 shops will host kiln openings, studio tours, demonstrations and special events.
Later in the year, the weekend before Thanksgiving, the Seagrove Pottery Festival (at Seagrove Elementary School) and the Celebration of Seagrove Potters (at Historic Luck’s Cannery) offer up a jam-packed couple of days that include lots of pottery, auctions, live entertainment, children’s activities, craft demonstrations, food, craft beer and wine.
Grounded in tradition
The Center and events such as these provide opportunities to learn about Seagrove’s rich past. Pre-historic Native Americans used the area’s abundant clay for functional and ceremonial objects, and immigrant potters in the 1700s helped build the tradition of Seagrove potters that continues today. Potter Crystal King’s parents apprenticed with an eighth-generation potter.
“By carrying on this heritage, we pay homage to the potters before us, and the craft that we love,” she says.
More travel ideas around the NC piedmont region