Monday, December 3, 2007

Quest For Stuff; Road Trip to Bumfuck, Egypt

Yesterday's festival of playing hookey segue-wayed into the once-a-year foray down to the mecca of NC pottery - also known as Moore County. Some of the folks throwing pots in this part of the world can trace their family's pottery tradition all the way back to the 1700s, while others have settled there more recently to take advantage of the built-in pottery buying clientele. Bea and I used to be serious collectors of Moore county pottery - back before kids, car payments, mortgages, etc. We would go down four or five times a year and drop 300 to 500 a trip on pieces made by the then up and coming Ben Owen III, Vernon Owens, and Billy Ray Hussey, to drop a few names. This being an epic journey; its been forever since we went; Ms. Q, Bea, and I set out with the intention of loading up the car with many and sundry clay beauties. This is the entrance to Jugtown, the place that put all the Moore county potteries on the map back in the 1920s. Moore county potters were in a decline at the time, what with commercial pottery underselling them for daily wares, and Prohibition putting them out of the jug business as well (though I understand there were still jugs being made for the moonshiners). A man named Jacques Busbee, from Raleigh, wanted to get the artware industry going on here that was happening in other parts of the US, so he set up shop, rounded up a few potters, and he was in business. The first two potters he hired for Jugtown were Charlie Teague and Ben Owen. They were both young men in the 1920s and willing to expand their pot-throwing repertoire into the artware realm. Charlie later quit and moved on to do his own thing, but Ben Owen stayed with Busbee and it was his skill that brought Jugtown international acclaim.
I love the windmill with the little pot on it. One of the things I always loved about Jugtown, even as a kid, was the cool handcrafts that they sold alongside of the pottery. I bought a beautiful loomed runner this time - picture to come later - the back seat doesn't photograph well, don'tcha know?
This is one of the wood-fired kilns at Jugtown. They use both wood and gas-fired kilns. The gas gives really consistently beautiful results, but the wood-fired pieces can be truly spectacular. I have a particular affinity for the wood-fired glazes, like ash, and frogskin - its always such a miracle of skill, weather and luck when an amazing piece comes out. We went to a Billy Ray Hussey kiln opening many years ago, where we actually helped unload the kiln. It went very slowly, because we were all oohing and ahhing over the pieces. I loved how they made funny pinging noises as they cooled down - they almost seemed alive in my hand! When we popped into Ben Owens' place to fondle a few of the elite (that we're too broke to buy), the pots had just been brought in from the kiln and they were all pinging - I love that sound! We stopped off at Crystal King's to see what was going on, but Crystal was out of town on a trip to China - go figure ! But her grandmother and uncle were there to shoot the breeze and keep up the stock. The King family is another of the long-time potting families in these parts, and while Crystal is still young, her work is really excellent quality - I think she's going to be one of the next really hot potters in that area. The Medusa head below is one of my most favorite figures that she's made. Unfortunately she had so many issues with cracking that she gave up trying to remake this, but its still a great piece, replete with the serpent that shows up in so many folk pieces from the region.
One of our last stops was Westmoore Pottery, which is run by David Farrell. They make primarily reproductions of Moravian pottery, which is usually redware that is slip-decorated with intricate, patterns that are evocative of the Pennsylvania Dutch Hex signs. No small wonder, as they are from the same cultural background. The NC Moravians settled in what is now Winston-Salem, and when they came, they brought with them two master potters, whose wares are the inspiration for what Westmoore makes. They also sell fabulous hand-blown 18th c. reproduction glassware that was killing me - it was so beautiful! (Note* Ms. Q is in the foreground in this shot of Westmoore - hi Pookie!)
Mid morning we had to stop and get a bite to eat before my blood sugar went so low I was forced to kill and eat an unwary pottery customer - and that tends to piss people off. So we hit the sole eatery in the area, and had some killer hushpuppies and a barbeque sandwich. The BBQ was western NC style, so it was a little weird to me, but the hushpuppies were outstanding! I moaned and groaned in ecstasy the entire time I ate them - I think I might have scared off a few customers, but damn! they were awesome! Bea is looking a bit rough at this point - we DID get up at 6:30 to go...
We also went to Ben Owen III's place, but I was too busy fondling the way-too-pricey-for-me-but aren't-they-gorgeous pieces to take any pictures. I actually asked a man buying a fantastic piece of ash-glaze if I could just hold his vase for a minute (and then I crooned to it - "who's a pretty piece of ash?" - don't judge me - you didn't see that vase). We had an enormously big time...I bought way too much pottery (though its been almost 5 years; aren't I entitled to a little extravagance? Its all going for Christmas presents anyway...oh yeah, what a juicy rationalization...I bet I keep half of it!) For more pictures of this trip, check out Trapped Under Something Heavy later on today...Bea will be posting her pictures there.


Chanda (aka Bea) said...

Fabulous Dahling, Fabulous!! Your pictures were lovely, and the history lesson was the perfect backdrop for them. Damn do I miss those days of dropping 500 bucks in an hours time at Ben Owen III's pottery. They will be mine again one day, oh yes, they will be mine!

ps.. thanks for the linky luv! ;)

flutter said...

ohhhhh how I love me some pottery what a fantastic trip!

BOSSY said...

Pottery itself may be good for Low Blood Sugar. Minerals and all that?