Thursday, September 30, 2010

Seagrove and the Potteries 2 – The Pughs, Westmoore Pottery and Ben Owen

The next place to visit was New Salem Pottery, home and studio of Hal and Eleanor Pugh in Randleman, just outside of Seagrove which was a real treat. There has been a tradition of pottery on the site from the 1766 which was started by the Dennis family from Ireland who travelled across New Jersey and Philadelphia. At some time they started making pottery. Thomas Dennis the first was listed as a shoe-maker. The question is why did they move here, did they know about the clay beds already or did they find the clay and then start making pots here?

As well as the Moravians there were also the Quakers in this area (English and Irish).

Hal was great and a charming host for a couple of hours – their set up is very rustic in a wooden cabin type building with a sales area at the front and a small studio at the back. Hal digs up clay from his own back yard - he dug some up for me and showed me how you can test to see if its a workable clay by wetting it, making it into a sausage shape and wrapping it round a finger to see if it cracks or not and so how pliable it is – if it cracks its not good enough to use. They make pots that are based on the old Moravian style and colours, painting on slip. As soon as we arrived Hal was very excited that we were from England and that I was researching pottery exported from North Devon – he showed me 3 trays of sherds that he has found on his property and wondered where they might be from. There were some sherds of decorative pieces and what interested Hal was the contoured rims of the pieces that had been shaped with a tool of some kind and were unusual because of that. Hal called these ridged- pots and wondered if doing something different with the ridged edges was English? The ridged edges are on the early pieces, he hasn't seen this before. There is also a square kiln on site which is a very unusual shape. Where does this shape come from? Quakers perhaps or something from Pennsylvania? Was it brought with them or did they develop the design here?

Hal and Eleanor have written 3 articles for the 2010 Ceramics in America and this publication is just about to come out – I was lucky enough to be treated to a preview of the articles on Hal's computer as he had copies. I will need to find out about square kilns and ridged pots when I get back to Bideford to see if either of these are of English, maybe even North Devonian descent?!

I also visited Ben Owen the Third at his family pottery, they have been potters since the 1700s also and Ben aged 12 decided he wanted to keep up the family tradition and learnt from his grandfather. There is a museum on site showcasing pieces of pottery from the family history. Ben also chatted to me whilst making pots at his wheel. It was a fascinating piece of history, though I didn't find any relationship to sgrafitto ware or North Devon pottery. Ben's contemporary pieces were very colourful – red and blue ceramics.

Last stop was Westmoore Pottery – I had been advised by a couple of sources to visit the Farrell family as they make reproduction sgrafitto ware. Erik Farrell was in the studio / shop when I arrived which was good fortune because he's a college student for most of his time studying archaeology; but he also decorates the sgraffito pots. It was interesting to see them and Erik's enthusiasm for the technique which he's still learning; it brought home to me just how skilled our Bideford potters are/were. Erik and I swapped book and reference information and he showed me a great book about the De Witt Wallace Collection in Williamsburg – I need to go back to see this on my way back to Richmond at the end of the trip.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Seagrove and the Potteries – Mark Hewitt

Seagrove is a traditional Pottery area and has been since the 1700s. It is Americas largest community of working potteries and according to the map has about 90 potters working in the area.

It has a Gallery and Museum dedicated to the history of the Potteries and to showcase contemporary potters in the area. Its a good starting point to get a feel of a lot of potters' work and to help decide who to go and see.

I was looking for any signs of influence on their work from the North Devon slipware and sgraffito style – I couldn't see any from what was on show at the Gallery, though I did have a couple of leads already to go to New Salem pottery as they are producing sgraffito style jugs. Also, with no relationship to North Devon style but purely from an historical perspective Westmoore Pottery had been suggested as a place to visit by Tom Beaman as this family have been potting since the 18th century.

First stop though was Mark Hewitt at Pittsborough, just outside of Seagrove. Again most people I had already met suggested to visit Mark. He is a Brit, married an American and settled in North Carolina about 25 years ago. It was fascinating to meet him and to see his studio, a place he found about 25 years ago, going for a song and with plenty of acreage to use to build a studio and pottery. Mark trained under Michael Cardew and is internationally known and renowned as a potter and is also very knowledgeable about the history of pottery in NC. He has also just co-written a book called the Potter's Eye and has written for Ceramics in America. He was working on a large pot when we arrived, so carried on talking to us whilst working at the wheel – at one point he got out a large blow torch and heated up his pot! Looked a bit drastic but it was to stop it getting too moist. Mark had some huge pieces on display outside and I had a look around his 2 wood fired kilns – one of which was the traditional shaped 'groundhog' kiln – its low in the ground one end where the wood fuel is fed and has a low ceiling, nothing like an upright bottle kiln however you can walk into. I had read about these back in Bideford and was amazed to see one in the flesh.

Mark was great, I think he enjoyed talking to some Brits as we got chatting about football as we left. He was also very generous and gave me a copy of his book and pointed me to some relevant copies of Ceramics in America that feature articles on North Devon Pottery.

I left with more knowledge, a real sense of having met a master potter and a friendly down to earth man. I also left with a wonderful mug that I purchased from Mark.

Below are pictures of Mark's groundhog kiln.

Raleigh 2 The Arts Council perspective

On Tuesday I had arranged a meeting with North Carolina Arts Council staff, I met Sally Peterson, Folk Arts Specialist and also Mary Regan, Director of the Arts Council.

Sally and I spent loads of time together and agreed we could have talked all day! It was a fascinating discussion and we talked about the history of the Moravian people (from Germany) and their pottery trade which travelled from North to South through Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. Interestingly they made jugs for alcohol, as producing alcohol was the most economical use of all the corn that was growing.

In the mid 1700s the potters started in North Carolina. Around this time, people were also importing finer better quality wares from Staffordshire and for anyone who was doing this, it helped to confirm their higher status. Sally encouraged me to visit the Seagrove Potteries to the West of Raleigh as there is a strong tradition of potters there, I told her that was where I was going next!

We also talked about the arts in general and particularly music. I was asking about this as I would love to hear and see some 'traditional' music – which is Old Time music, pre Blue Grass, played on the fiddle. I thought immediately of Lisa Sture and Tony Finney's band Firewater back home in Bideford as they both have a strong fiddle playing tradition in their music, particularly Lisa and her folk roots.

I was pointed to a couple of websites, one of which is looking at the role of language, and a book 'Traditional American Folk Songs - Anne and Frank Warner Collection', a hefty piece that will need to be looked up on the internet to get hold of a copy as its too big and heavy for the suitcase.

We also had a really good discussion about the possibility of a future arts exchange programme and using our historical links – we talked about sense of 'place' and identity and maybe to focus on the similar issues and problems between us such as economics; and also to look at similarities overall including the landscape, boats and shipping industry, tourism and creating an identity for locals and visitors. The 'Graveyard of the Atlantic' is a similarity that we share with many shipwrecks on the Eastern seaboard and on the North Devon coast.

Mary Regan was also very helpful and gave some time to discuss ideas about an exchange programme – she suggested that I need to talk to Laura Martier at Dare County Arts Council first (which I am already planned to do) and for Laura to talk to them if she feels that they can help or provide any financial assistance (although their budget, like our Arts funding is being reduced). Laura gave me a copy of a great book called 'Blue Ridge Music Trails' – a book about where you can find traditional Mountain music in North Carolina and Virginia, what a great resource! I haven''t heard any live music as yet but am on the lookout for catching a traditional performance somewhere.

Next stop Seagrove.......

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Raleigh 1 - the oak

Raleigh was named after Sir Walter and from the Olde English meaning oak forest. I had 2 productive days in downtown, firstly at the State archaeology office and secondly at the North Carolina Arts Council.
I had arranged to meet with Dr Billy Oliver and Thomas Beaman to look into whether there was any evidence of North Devon slipware in the State. Billy Oliver is an archaeologist and Research Centre Director at the office of State archaeology research Centre. He invited Tom Beaman to join us as Tom has spent a lot of time in Brunswick Town on the South East coast of NC. What was immediately interesting was that Tom and Billy talked about the graveyard of the Atlantic on the East coast, so called because of the many shipwrecks - this is the same as the North Devon coast, so there are parallels between the 2 places. It also helps to explain the lack of trade there as the ships would simply have been unable to stop and deliver goods for purchase.

After a bit of a history lesson Tom and Billy took me to see some sherds (pottery bits they told me are sherds and glass and other materials are shards) which have not been identified as being from North Devon but possibly could be. There were some very small sherds with green glaze and bag fulls of bigger pieces with browny black lead glaze. I was unable to identify those. There were also 4 or 5 pieces of sgraffito ware, again not identified as being North Devon slipware, but could be – I was able to photograph some of these to report back in Bideford to see if anyone might be able to throw light on their origin.

Tom very generously gave me a book about the archaeological finds from Brunswick town which contains information about the places where the sherds were found that I photographed – one being the public house and the other being from the Newman Kitchen and Prospect Hall at the site.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Next stop Williamsburg Virginia

At last a complete North Devon sgrafitto pot! But.... not an original, this was in a store in Colonial Williamsburg and is a reproduction, but it was exciting to see none the less.

Colonial Williamsburg is an interesting place, its very old for America, was settled as a British Colony in the mid 1700's – as their website says “the world’s largest living history museum in Williamsburg, Virginia—the restored 18th-century capital of Britain’s largest, wealthiest, and most populous outpost of empire in the New World”

I was intrigued to visit and to see how Americans 'do' Heritage. It felt strange walking around, slightly unreal the first evening as the place was quite empty and it almost felt a bit fake even though there are over 80 original buildings there. The roads are very wide (maybe too wide for the 18th century?) and there were costumed characters walking around, though not many and they did not seem to be in character, plus evidence of horse and carriage rides on the ground! A lot of the buildings are reproductions as the originals get removed for archeaological activity to take place in their foundations and then are rebuilt on the same site – like the original coffee house that was lived in by an old lady for years. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation excavated the site and then a reproduction was built on the same spot on the original foundations, based on archaeological evidence.

The next day, Tuesday I went back again with Dave to experience more activity. It was interesting noticing details such as bins being disguised as wooden barrels (again something for Bideford to do). What was strange was that there was pottery in stores for sale (a lot of places sold the same things, including pottery jugs, wooden barrels made by on -site coopers, period reproduction clothing, colonial chocolate based on an old recipe and old newspapers).

The pottery was all new and reproduction often coming from China or Spain - in one craft store, there was a North Devon harvest jug on the floor of the shop at the top of the stairwell! It turned out to be a reproduction made jug by Michelle Erickson. Later I went on the search for Michelle and ended up at her shop (closed) in Yorktown, but that's for a later blog. This harvest jug was a copy of a jug with text on it about Barnstaple and was for sale for $799, maybe there's a market for Bideford's potter Harry Juniper's work?

A nice touch was the garden, filled with plants that were orginally grown by the Colonists with seeds and plants for sale.

Colonial Williamsburg is a very busy place for tourism and Americans just love their history and roots, the walking tours and day passes were very popular as it allowed greater access to the inside of buildings and access to people re-creating everyday life. It was a fruitful experience to gain some ideas of how to promote and celebrate heritage.

The Raleigh Tavern unfortunately was closed.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Jamestowne Connection

On Monday I had a day visiting Jamestowne. I had three scheduled visits, firstly to meet and do the 'In the Trenches Tour' with head archaeologist Dr Bill Kelso; secondly to meet with Senior Curator Bly Straube and thirdly to meet with Curator Melanie Piereira.
With great excitement and a bit of nervous intrepidation, I travelled from Williamsburg (where we were staying) to Jamestowne nice and early to get my bearings and hopefully have some breakfast there. There are 2 parts to the Jamestowne experience – the Jamestowne Settlement (see which is in essence a re-creation of the original settlement and Fort with tours led by costumed characters and reproduction Ships on the river (a good idea for Bideford to do this); the second part is Historic Jamestowne ( see and is the actual site of the original settlement with archaeological digs providing firm evidence of where the Fort was, the church, and other sites, including the original well. Both places have visitor interpretation and historical exhibits.

The In the Trenches tour was very interesting and a real insight into those early pioneers and early life on the Island. I was in a group of only 6 so it felt even more special (the tour can take up to 30 people)– Dr Kelso started digging, after he giving up his job to do so, and he really started off the detailed exploration of the site, keen to find answers to the puzzle. It was fascinating seeing the archaeological digs - when we were in there, one of the team dug up a piece of clay pipe and a black and white glass bead. We were told to look at the different colours of the earth which signified where possible structures may have been. What was incredibly pertinent was viewing lots of black crosses signifying graves – of the 106 original settlers, half died within weeks of arriving. Interestingly, the graves were within the Fort rather than outside it and Dr Kelso wondered if people were buried in the Fort so that the native Indians didn't see that the Community were sick as that would show a weakness and leave them vulnerable to attack. After the tour I went to meet Bly Straube and she had kindly got some sherds of North Devon Pottery Out for me to view – it was so exciting and felt a little weird being in Jamestowne and seeing pieces of pot that were made in Bideford or Barnstaple (the pieces couldn't be pin pointed). The three pictures of pottery here are reproduced by permission of Preservation Virginia, Jamestowne Rediscovery Project. There was a large piece of a dripping dish with a green glaze – used to catch meat juices during cooking – and a broken vessel that was vase shaped and Bly thought would have been used to transport dried fish (not a butter vessel as that was wider to pack the butter and layer it with salt to stop it spoiling). I also saw some smaller, but wonderful, sgrafitto sherds, with the yellow glaze that so signifies the North Devon style.There was an apparently unique small handleless cup that was used as a drugs cup, I held this one in my hand and took a photo of it. I was able to tell Bly about the RJ Lloyd collection at the Burton Art Gallery and she was very interested in that and will take a look at the website.

The last stop was meeting with Melanie (pronounced Me-lay-nee) and she had 'pulled out' 4 pieces from the millions of sherds they have that have been found on Jamestowne Island – yes that is millions!! That was pretty awesome too; there were 2 complete bowls (that has been pieced together) with a mix of geometric and swirly designs on and that signature yellow glaze; an almost complete mug and an almost whole vase shaped vessel with a rose design on it. She could have shown me all kinds of things and lots more but wanted to show me something to represent the collection. We also took a look together at Alison Grant's book on 17th century pottery (kindly lent to me by Linda Blanchard at the North Devon AONB) and it was fascinating as she was looking through the pictures and pointing out all the things that there are in the collection.

Wow what a great day – I felt quite humbled by it all and although I am not here to research American history I felt that this is what I was learning a lot about too and the amazing resilience of those early British colonists in Jamestowne.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Thanks employers!

Now I'm here, just wanted to say thank you to my two employers Bideford 500 and Aune Head Arts for working with me on this trip, being so flexible and enabling me to carry out my travel fellowship. It's much appreciated, thanks!
See the weblinks for links to their websites.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

First post

Welcome to my blog! You are reading about me and this trip, courtesy of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. Without them I wouldn't be on this adventure, so thanks a lot WCMT. As Sir Winston Churchill said, 'with opportunity comes responsibility' and this is my big opportunity!
I applied to the Trust with a project proposal in October 2009 and heard that I was successful at the end of January 2010 and so have been waiting a long time for the journey to begin.

My proposal was to do 2 things – travel to Virginia and North Carolina to study the export of North Devon Sgraffito pottery to the Eastern seaboard of America and its colonies, to look at and hold in my hand pieces of 17th and 18th century pot which were shipped out of Bideford to service the ever increasing numbers of settlers there. The second thing was to make 'first contact' with the arts and local community in Manteo NC, Bideford's new 'sister City' twin town. We share so much history as Bideford mariners sailed out of the port in 1587 to set up a colony on what is now Roanoke Island and Manteo is the main town. This colony vanished and became known as the Lost Colony and the mystery has never been solved as to what happened to the 116 people who had landed, made a settlement and then disappeared 2 years later. So, I wanted to go over to Roanoke Island and the Outerbanks region to get to know some of the present day folks there and to hopefully ignite a 'special relationship' between our towns. The plan is for me to set up an arts and cultural exchange programme after my visit, to enable artists to travel from their town to the other, bringing their work, making new work and sharing stories about their home town and what inspires them to make the artwork they do. This programme will hopefully enable residents of and visitors to both Manteo and Bideford understand about everyday life and culture and encourage relationships to be built.

So where am I going? Well for the Churchill Trust I had to put together a detailed itinerary and send it to them before my grant amount could be finalised and therefore my flight be booked. This definitely focusses the mind and makes you get on with it, pluck up courage to call people and talk to them about ideas and establish if they are willing to meet, share what they know and generally be accommodating. So the first few days (starting September 20th) go like this – First stop is Jamestown, to study old pottery shards (or sherds as they call them over here); then to Raleigh to meet with the Arts Council and visit museums and archaeological centres and on to Seagrove Potteries to see contemporary potters in what is an old traditional pottery area. From then on its making my way across North Carolina and over to Manteo and Roanoke Island for approximately half my time.
I am writing this in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, staying in a cabin very close to the Blue Ridge Parkway, near a town called Waynsboro – I managed to fly out 4 days before I needed to be here, which is great and very special. My husband Dave is with me and is accompanying me to all these special places. He is here officially, representing Bideford Bay Creatives – we set up the organisation a year ago and I applied for a 'Go and see' bursary from Networking Artists Networks (NAN). We got a grant of £500 and Dave is using some of that for his expenses. He will be taking a lot of time in Manteo to network with artists, get to know them, share some ideas about future projects together and generally break the ice. Dave is also here as a photographer and will be taking photos for his own artwork and is also interested in showing the similarities and differences between Bideford and Manteo.

The photo above is of me writing this post. More soon.....