I am always in awe of true craftspeople. In an era of mass production, anyone who has continued to work with their hands to create something both useful and beautiful is pretty awesome in my book. When I can visit a studio where each piece was produced with love and attention to detail, I can get lost just looking around. And when you add in an historic angle to it, I'm sold. That's why I was so thrilled to visit Westmoore Pottery in Seagrove, North Carolina, a truly special place.
Seagrove has the highest concentration of pottery studios in the United States. Historically, the rich red clay of the area and abundant wood to fire it with made an excellent combination inspiring early potters to set up here. This region of North Carolina is also landlocked so it wasn't easy to get pottery from Europe or elsewhere as many of the coastal regions did, creating a demand for local pottery.
As the industrial era took off and transportation improved, factory-made pottery quickly replaced the hand-made kind. Only a few potters were hanging on by the turn of the 20th century. Thankfully though, in 1917, a couple from Raleigh, the Busbees, visited the area and fell in love with the craftsmanship of the potters they met there. They brought Seagrove pottery to the wider world, and the craft was revived. Today, almost a hundred pottery studios can be found in and around Seagrove, and it is a stunning region to visit whether you are a pottery expert or just a lover of beautifully hand-crafted items.
Westmoore Pottery was established in 1977 by David and Mary Farrell. While David has since changed paths, Mary is still very actively creating her beautiful pottery and it was a pleasure to meet her when I stepped inside her cozy studio. It was a bit chilly out when I visited and I was pleased to find an open fire burning in the fireplace. I introduced myself and Mary and I had a wonderful conversation about the work that she does.
Mary creates historically accurate pottery, specializing in North Carolina pottery from 1755 to about 1850 but extending in whichever direction her clients need. She has a huge book collection from which she does most of her research, and from our conversation, it sounded like she is always busy. She has created pottery for living history museums like Historic Williamsburg, Virginia and Old Salem here in North Carolina. She has also created pottery for historic movie and television sets, and her work has been featured in many museums, galleries and magazines. She's been fascinated by pottery from a young age and has over forty-five years of experience in the craft. This experience really shows in her work.
At Westmoore Pottery, Mary can and does make redware, salt-glazed and green-glazed pottery. The one major difference from the historic pottery she draws her influence from is that she doesn't use lead in her glazes. I think we can all agree that that is a good idea. The point, though, is that her pottery is meant to be functional, not decorative. Although everything in her studio is beautiful, it is intended to be kept on a shelf in your kitchen, not in a case in your living room.
Mary had a stack of orders to fill when I was there, so I didn't want to keep her from her work for too long, but it was really amazing to speak with her. I could tell she really enjoys what she does, and what she produces is really special.
I love being able to visit places where unique and special crafts are being handmade in traditional ways. Our country needs to hold onto some of these foundational crafts or I'm afraid we will lose them forever. It was really special to visit Westmoore Pottery in Seagrove and see clay turned into something truly exceptional.
Westmoore Pottery has a studio located at 4622 Busbee Rd. in Seagrove. Mary's phone number there is (910) 464-3700 and their website is www.westmoorepottery.com . She has a lot of wonderful pieces for sale, but only does special orders for museums and historical sites.