When talking about Randolph County, Asheboro and the NC Zoo are understandably the first things that come to mind. However, nestled 15 minutes from Asheboro is the quiet, amazing small town of Seagrove.
With a population of just over 200 and at least 100 potters living and working there, Seagrove absolutely earns its nickname as the handmade pottery capital of the US. More than 70 studios and stores operate in the area, with a strong community surrounding these artists.
Your first visit may be a little overwhelming simply due to the sheer number of potters located here. In this guide, we hope to share how you can learn about and enjoy the Seagrove Pottery scene, as well as the history of Seagrove potters.
Here’s what you’ll find inside this guide:
- The History of Seagrove Pottery
- Pottery-Perfect Land (and First Potters)
- First European Seagrove Potters Arrive
- The 20th Century, The Busbees
- Pinehurst (Golfing Tourists with Cash for Pots)
- Today’s Seagrove Pottery
- The North Carolina Pottery Center (Your Starting Point)
- Seasonal Events
- More Things to Do in Randolph County (Related Posts)
This post is part of our series on all the places to visit in Central North Carolina, with a specific focus on Asheboro and its Randolph County surroundings that include Seagrove.
The History of Seagrove Pottery
Check out our interview with sixth-generation potter Ben Owen III for the 18th episode of NC Travel Chat. A lot of the information we have learned about Seagrove Pottery comes from this interview. Additional sources include NCPedia.
Pottery-Perfect Land (and First Potters)
The materials needed for pottery are pretty common around the Sandhills region, which covers Randolph County to Winston-Salem and even South Carolina. Ben Owen III explained to us that good red and yellow clays are abundant here, making this the perfect spot to produce quality pots.
Archaeologists and other researchers have uncovered artifacts proving that artisans knew about this land’s properties long before the Seagrove potters arrived. Native Americans like the Catawba tribe are credited with creating artifacts from this land dating over 3,000 years ago.
First European Seagrove Potters Arrive
Among the earliest recorded families to arrive in Seagrove were the Cravens and the Coles in the 1700s. These families originally came to farm, but they learned new skills that helped them adapt to the South.
They developed a new earthenware pottery tradition with a technique that allowed for a lower firing temperature. They also produced utilitarian vessels that could withstand going into a wood-fire style of baking.
As more settlers moved to the area in the 19th century, demand grew for pottery vessels as they were used for food storage and other necessities. JD Craven Pottery was one of the most prominent potteries during that time.
As the Industrial Revolution emerged, the demand for locally produced handmade pots shifted to cheaper and machine-made metal and glass containers. Seagrove’s pottery scene ultimately survived but had to adapt to these tough times.
The 20th Century (The Busbees and Seagrove’s Emergence as an Arts Destination)
The pottery scene changed forever after the arrival of Jacques and Juliana Busbee, a Raleigh-based couple who were introduced to Seagrove Pottery at local fairs and festivals. Jacques was a painter and Juliana shared his admiration for art.
They established Jugtown Pottery near Seagrove, as well as a shop in New York (Greenwich Village) which helped revive the fading pottery scene. A few artists from Randolph County even traveled with the Busbees as they promoted Seagrove pottery.
The work of Seagrove potters began appearing in museums, including the Metropolitan Museum, the Smithsonian, and elsewhere. The Busbee’s shop in Greenwich Village eventually closed, but the demand for Seagrove Pottery remains to this day.
While traveling with the Busbees, some of the potters picked up new ideas, and techniques, sketching vessels from Mesopotamia, Southeast Asia, early Europe, and other styles. They started retooling and making pieces beyond jugs and pitchers, including vases, jars, and other ornamental pieces.
Ben Owen commented, “that was probably the most pivotal point as far as development in style and technique.” Other potteries in the area followed suit, transforming Seagrove forever.
Golfing Tourists Discover Seagrove
As Seagrove was growing in stature as a pottery hotbed, nearby Pinehurst in Moore County was developing as a premier destination for golfers. More people were traveling to experience courses like No. 2, with others being built to support the increasing demand for the sport.
Between rounds of golf, these visitors were also frequenting the nearby Seagrove pottery studios and picking up pieces to take home. Today, Seagrove pieces from the 1940s, 50s, and beyond are found in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania homes, as well as many other states.
Today’s Seagrove Pottery
While heading south on US-1 and US-220, people often stopped by in Seagrove to purchase a pot or two. Business has slowed down since the booming years post-war world, but Seagrove Pottery’s popularity has since returned.
Many colleges and universities throughout North Carolina offer classes on pottery today, helping nurture and keep the art alive. Many in-state students join potters from around the world to move here, become apprentices, work full-time in studios, or open their own.
Travelers continue to arrive via the roads we mentioned above, hopping off Interstates 73 and 74 to drive along NC-705, also known as Pottery Road. This NC highway is among our favorite roads in North Carolina, thanks to Seagrove Pottery.
The North Carolina Pottery Center (Your Starting Point)
A crucial development to the area was the Seagrove Potters Museum that opened in 1969 by Dorothy Cole and Walter Auman. In 1982, the Seagrove Pottery Festival kicked off and has been held the weekend before Thanksgiving each year, with 2020 a notable exception.
Today, you can learn about all of these events, along with more backstory, at the North Carolina Pottery Center. This place is not only crucial to informing new visitors about Seagrove Pottery’s past, but also in guiding you to find the perfect pieces to take home or studios to visit.
With 100 individual potters and 70 studios to explore, you’re going to need some help in narrowing down your search. It’s important to recognize that one or even two trips to Seagrove will never be enough to truly explore this unique place!
While you’ll enjoy learning about Seagrove at the NC Pottery Center and visiting individual specifics at any time of the year, we strongly consider visiting for their special seasonal events.
Two such events happen at the same time during a typical year, with the Celebration of Seagrove Potters Studio Tour and Seagrove Pottery Festival typically taking place on the weekend before Thanksgiving.
For 2020, the “Celebration” is moving to a tour in lieu of an indoor market and the Pottery Festival has postponed its event until April 2021.
You can also keep up with these and any additional Seagrove events via the Discover Seagrove website.
Ready to Discover Seagrove Pottery
Seagrove Pottery might be viewed today as more a hidden gem, but we think visiting this area is one of the best things to do in North Carolina.
If you haven’t visited Seagrove yet, simply pick a weekend and take a trip out here! The Pottery Center is open throughout much of the week, as well as most studies. If you know the area and have an artist that you love, we’d love to know about them. Let us know in the comments or by email.