North Carolina Pottery: The Collection of The Mint Museums


North Carolina is home to the only continuing pottery tradition in the United States outside the Native American tradition of the Southwest. Noted for this rich tradition from Seagrove to Pisgah, work produced here has earned the attention of collectors, artists, and visitors from around the globe. The collection of The Mint Museums in Charlotte, numbering more than 1,600 pieces, is considered the most comprehensive in any public institution. This volume catalogs more than four hundred individual pieces in the ...

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North Carolina is home to the only continuing pottery tradition in the United States outside the Native American tradition of the Southwest. Noted for this rich tradition from Seagrove to Pisgah, work produced here has earned the attention of collectors, artists, and visitors from around the globe. The collection of The Mint Museums in Charlotte, numbering more than 1,600 pieces, is considered the most comprehensive in any public institution. This volume catalogs more than four hundred individual pieces in the Museums' collection and includes five essays by authorities in the field of ceramics, providing a visual and textual guide to a vibrant living tradition.

Illustrated with hundreds of color photographs, the catalog includes descriptive entries on potters and potteries and details about individual pieces. These include traditional utilitarian wares from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, transitional or "fancy wares" made during the first half of the twentieth century, and contemporary objects. Displaying works from the four major pottery-producing areas of the state—Moravian settlements, Seagrove, the Catawba Valley, and the mountains—the collection tells the entire story of the North Carolina pottery tradition. Essays by collector and patron Daisy Wade Bridges, scholar Charles G. Zug III, gallery director Charlotte V. Brown, potter Mark Hewitt, and curator Barbara Stone Perry survey the history and significance of one of the state's best-known art forms.

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
The first comprehensive publication on the Mint's extraordinary collection. —New England Antiques Journal

[A] handsomely illustrated book. . . . The essays offer history and aesthetic appreciation.—American Craft

A visual as well as textual guide to a vibrant living craft. . . . This volume should go a long way toward preserving the pottery tradition of North Carolina.—Our State

North Carolina Pottery offers historical insight into the significance of our state's rich pottery tradition. The Mint Museums' comprehensive collection illustrates—and this book documents—the unique qualities of hand-turned pottery as a utilitarian craft and a decorative art form. The reader also gains insight into the cultural and family connections shared by North Carolina potters.—Ben Owen III, Seagrove, North Carolina

The presentation revealed here is nicely paced with a good introduction to the subject by the curator of the museum and subsequent chapters relating the progress of the art form from its earliest utilitarian origins to its more artistic and historically aware recent configurations. The presentation is effective and compels reading by anyone at all interested in ceramics, American arts and culture in general, or North Carolina's history in particular.—Ronald Andrew Kuchta, Editor, American Ceramics

An unprecedented resource for understanding the value, significance, and history of this centuries-old art and craft. . . . Destined to become the authoritative guide to the state's pottery tradition.—The Mountain Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807855744
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 10/31/2004
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 977,970
  • Product dimensions: 8.66 (w) x 11.96 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Stone Perry is curator of decorative arts at The Mint Museums in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is author of American Art Pottery from the Collection of Everson Museum of Art.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
North Carolina's ceramic heritage 3
Traditional pottery 11
Tradition in transition : art pottery in North Carolina, 1900-1940 17
A tradition continues 23
The poetry in North Carolina pottery 28
Catalog 33
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First Chapter

North Carolina Pottery

The Collection of The Mint Museums

The University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2004 The Mint Museums
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8078-2908-0

Chapter One

North Carolina Ceramic Heritage

Daisy Wade Bridges

Clay, forests, fire, flint, muscle, and sheer determination define the heart and soul of the North Carolina ceramic tradition. Never an industry or a factory activity, it is instead a personal history built on the foundation of strong families and very hard work, plus the development of skills for the entire process, from digging the clay to the dramatic firing of the wood kilns. Over time, adaptations had to be made from wood-fired to oil- and gas-burning homemade kilns built by the potter, his family, and his friends. No captains of industry lived in these regions, there were no assembly lines or modern equipment in the potteries, and no great fortunes were made in the pottery business, at least not in North Carolina. There was not much money here, and no one to invest in poor farmer-potters and their utilitarian works. But their spirit, their innovations, and their skills are recognized the world over. Their pottery has a distinct relationship with the earth and with the environment that also molded the potters, and it displays characteristics that are personal to each maker. Its colors reflect those of the hills nearby. All this speaks eloquently of a long-established culturetied to a particular time and place.

Even older traditions preceded the arrival of these potters, traditions also tied to cultures and environments. The first European settlers arrived in a virgin environment where Indians treaded lightly upon the land. The Native Americans of North Carolina, in particular the Catawba and Cherokee Nations, had been making pottery for millennia, using clay beds and kaolin deposits located long before the white potters came on the scene. Archaeological work has revealed strong evidence of pottery made by the coil method, with sides smoothed and firmed, then paddle-stamped. The earliest material evidence, which is considerable, dates from the Woodland Period (1000 b.c. to 1000 a.d.), when people settled near streams and creekbeds where clay could be found. One very important feature of the Cherokee wares is their use of some kaolin, or pure white clay slips, on their low-fired earthenware, this being the clay that was so eagerly sought by the Europeans.

Several early documents reveal a European interest in North Carolina clays. Deposits of unaker (the Native American word for white, or kaolin) had been found in South Carolina by Andrew Duché, a potter who worked in Charleston and Savannah. Duché was the first potter to settle in Charleston and the earliest recorded one south of Virginia. He was the son of a well-established potter in Philadelphia and grew up with knowledge of the business of pottery and its production. He is considered to be the first person in America or England to experiment with unaker for making porcelain. It is rather doubtful that he succeeded in making porcelain pieces of any quality, although the founder of the Georgia colony, James Oglethorpe, announced in 1739 that some porcelain was being produced in Savannah. Duché did, however, locate unaker deposits in Georgia, South Carolina, and near Franklin, North Carolina.

Customs records reveal that twenty tons of unaker were exported to London from Carolina in 1743-44, and in 1749 John Campbell reported finding some clay in North Carolina, a sample of which was being sent to England. He said that this earth resembled the clay he had seen at the Bow Porcelain Company.

Thomas Frye, an artist, and Edward Heylyn, a merchant from Bow, had in 1744 made an application for a patent to produce the high-fired, translucent ware, proclaiming a "new method of manufacturing a certain material, whereby a ware might be made of the same nature or kind, and equal to, if not exceeding in goodness and beauty, china or porcelain ware imported from abroad." The following description states, "The material is an earth, the produce of the Chirokee nation in America, called by the natives unaker, the propertys of which are as follows, videlicet (translucent) to be very fixed, strongly resisting fire ..., is extremely white, tenacious, and glittering with mica." Deposits of kaolin are still located near Franklin, North Carolina, and outcroppings can still be seen near Brevard, in territory once owned by the Cherokees.

Another early written record of ceramic history in North Carolina is A Journal of the Voyage to South Carolina, 1767-8, by Thomas Griffiths, who was dispatched by Josiah Wedgwood to the Cherokee Nation settlement of Ayoree, near Franklin, to obtain samples from the Cherokee kaolin beds. Wedgwood wanted to use the clay for his porcelain experiments and also to whiten his famous creamware (queensware). He paid Griffiths £50 a year plus expenses, a total of £500.

Griffiths left London on July 16, 1767, and arrived in Charleston, or "Chas Town Bay" as he called it, on September 21, "being a miserable hot and sickly time." He furnished himself with a servant, tools, blankets, horses, and bearskins and, after hiring horses and equipment and arranging for a native Cherokee guide, set out on his expedition. His guide was a Cherokee woman who had been kidnapped from one of the chiefs of the Cherokees. His journal gives one of the most colorful, informative accounts ever recorded of the backcountry life of settlers and Indians, their hardships and misunderstandings, murders, hangings, fights with the notorious Virginia Crackers, fevers, the frigid weather of a North Carolina winter, and the treacherous terrain across the Carolina mountains. His Indian guide led him to the chiefs, and after long hesitation on their part, he was given consent to visit the clay pits. He was told by two tribal officials that "they had been troubled by some young Men long before, who made great holes in their land, took away their fine white clay and gave them only promises for it."

After an extremely hazardous journey through terrible weather both "hot and fainty" and freezing cold, rampant fevers, angry Indians, robbers, and dangerous terrain, Griffiths arrived at the desired spot and had to spend three laborious days cleaning out the pit before reaching the clay itself. Finally he and his men began to dig, only to have a great downpour fill the pit with red soil, which stained the fine white clay. He served the Indians rum and tried to make music from time to time, which made them dance, as he noted, "with great agility." By the eighteenth day he had at last dug and dried all the clay and loaded it on the pack horses.

The paragraph describing his leavetaking from Ayoree is worth quoting:

On the twentythird of December I took my Leave of this cold and Mountainous Country and went off with the pack horses for fort prince George: but the Frosty Weather breaking, and the Mountain paths being very narrow and Slipery we killed and Spoiled Some of the best horses: and at last my own Slipt down and Roled severall times over me; but I saved my Self by laying hold of a young Tree and the poar Beast Tumbled into a Creek & was Spoiled: This was an unlucky Sercumstance, as I had then Severall hundred Miles to Traveill, besides the loss of a fine Young Cherokee horse.

Griffith's expenses were meticulously listed throughout the journey, and by April 16, 1768, he had finally returned to London. Today a historic marker near Franklin in the southwest mountains area of the state commemorates his expedition.

There is not much evidence to tell us exactly how Wedgwood used the unaker other than for prestige purposes. In 1769 he took out a patent for decorating his black basalt using the clay tinted with an orange color to simulate Greek vases, calling it "encaustic" decoration. In November 1773 he wrote his partner that he was preparing some of the clay for use with gems and cameos. Four years later he wrote his partner again, mentioning that all of his jasperware contained some of the Cherokee clay. The Mint Museums possess a large number of Wedgwood pieces, including cameos, jasperware, and basalt with "encaustic" decoration. In them, Cherokee clay has returned to its roots.

Another reference in English annals to the Cherokee clay and its properties is found in a letter written by William Cookworthy of Plymouth, founder of the first English porcelain manufactory. On 5 May 1745, he wrote to a friend, "I have lately with me the person who discovered the china-earth [this is presumably Andrew Duché. He had several samples of the chinaware of their making with him, which were, I think, equal to the Asiatic. Twas found in the back of Virginia where he was in quest of mines.... He has gone for a cargo of it, having bought the whole country from the Indians where it rises. They can import it for 13 Ls. per ton."

Cookworthy successfully took out a patent on his hard-paste porcelain in 1765, using materials that had been discovered in Cornwall, England, in 1755. He later sold his patent rights and works to Richard Champion of Bristol, who created many fine pieces but was unable to make the manufactory profitable. Champion migrated to South Carolina, bringing with him a beautiful porcelain figure representing "Mourning" and dedicated to his little daughter, who had died some time before. The figure was passed down through the family to Champion Edmonds of Camden, South Carolina, who sold it to the Mint Museums, where it now resides under the label, "Dear Eliza." Champion also mentions Cherokee clay in a letter written in February 1766: "In July ... a box of porcelain earth from the internal part of the Cherokee nations, 400 miles from hence (Charles Town), on mountains scarcely accessible," was sent to him by his brother-in-law, Caleb Lloyd, to forward to the Worcester china works to be used for experiments there. Champion goes on to say that the clay from Cornwall is very much like, but not quite so fine as, the material found in the Cherokee territory. Such letters testify to the great interest in the fine Cherokee clay shown by English ceramics makers-an interest sparked by a considerable fright that someone in North or South Carolina might get ahead of the English in the race to produce good porcelain on a profitable basis.

The Earliest European Potters in North Carolina: The Moravians

The earliest potters who worked in North Carolina made little use of Wedgwood's unaker, which was a fine clay used in elegant porcelains, fired at a high temperature and capable of the most delicate modeling. But early North Carolina potters were concerned primarily with survival, and utility was their most important criterion. They worked in the backcountry, isolated from the large, sophisticated urban centers, and lived close to the land. Their production was characterized by strength, practicality, and durability.

The first really stable pottery endeavor to develop in North Carolina was that of the Moravians, who in 1753 immigrated from Bohemia (in what is now Czechoslovakia) and bought land to establish a small community called Bethabara near what was soon to become Salem. They immediately set up shops to provide necessities for the group, among whom was a master potter, Gottfried Aust (1722-88) and his tools of trade. Aust was indeed a potter of considerable skill, who created nicely crafted wares while achieving a prodigious output. He had originally apprenticed in the old country and served as a journeyman there before his arrival in America, where he again worked as a journeyman in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The new pottery at Bethabara was well situated in a frontier area where there was little if any competition, more than ample supplies of wood and flint, and proper clay deposits. White clay for pipes and slip trailing was probably obtained from the Indians.

Aust's production was extraordinarily diverse, considering the rough beginnings and untested materials. He made utility wares for cooking and storage and also tiles to cover the exteriors of the large iron stoves that were the standard vehicles for heating homes in the old country. These stoves were uncommon in America, as most settlers from Britain preferred simple open fireplaces. Stoves gave off a radiant heat that was more uniform and therefore provided a more comfortable overall room temperature than open fires.

Most Moravian pottery was the lead-glazed redware (earthenware) that was common everywhere in eighteenth-century America before potters developed kilns capable of reaching the high temperatures required to produce stoneware. Earthenware clay is the easiest and most pliable, as well as the least technically complex, ceramic material. It can be fired at the lowest temperatures of any ceramic body (North Carolina potters generally fired their earthenwares at around 900º to 1,150ºC), but it is not waterproof until glazed, and it chips easily, though it is inexpensive to make because earthenware clays are usually found in abundance. Being very plastic, it lends itself readily to individual artistry.

Large deposits of clays with red iron content occur naturally in the earth in North Carolina, particularly in the Seagrove area near the middle of the state. There the red clay is dug directly out of clay pits in the ground, then sticks, pebbles, roots, and debris are removed, and the resulting material is seasoned, pugged, and mixed with water before being placed on the wheel. The chief problem with this clay is that it is not vitrified or sanitary unless it is glazed, and lead was the mainstay ingredient in the glazes used on earthenware. Though beautiful, lead glazes can be poisonous if fired too low, and the leads become unstable if the kiln temperatures are too hot. During the 1960s, the use of lead content in glazes was declared illegal by the federal government, and potters were forced to switch to frit or glass glazes, which do not have the flexibility and beauty of the older lead glazes.

The Moravian pieces that were valued most at the time they were made are also the ones that have survived into the twenty-first century, although they are extremely rare. Attractive slip-trailed plates, bowls, and mugs reflect the ethnic origins of the community and stand apart from the rest of American wares, including those from Pennsylvania.

In 1767 (the same year Thomas Griffiths set out on his journey for Josiah Wedgwood), after twelve years in Bethabara, Aust moved to a new pottery shop in Salem. By this time large quantities of Wedgwood's creamware and tortoiseshell green and brown decorated wares in the Whieldon style were being shipped on a regular basis from England to the port cities of America, and examples of these pieces could not have failed to come to Brother Aust's attention.

In 1774 an English potter visited Aust in the Salem community with the intent of offering him information on "queensware," Wedgwood's important cream-colored earthenware; he was willing to exchange information about patterns, molds, and techniques in return for lodging and keep.


Excerpted from North Carolina Pottery Copyright © 2004 by The Mint Museums. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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