“I sent many new pots home with great new owners,” said ceramic artist Julie Wiggins, the only Charlotte potter invited to exhibit at last Saturday’s eighth annual Potters Market Invitational at Mint Museum Randolph. More than 1,000 people attended the event which featured 40 potters from across North Carolina.
Serious ceramic collectors started lining up in front of the large white tent at 8:15 a.m. to purchase the hottest pottery. As they wandered through each booth, patrons marveled at the creativity of each artist.
Dilworth-resident Jeanette Sims is a regular to the Potters Market Invitational. She enjoys the touch and texture of ceramic art as well as, “the artistry of the outline.” Sims’ companion Mary Pat Kelly appreciates the tactile, three-dimensional quality, adding, “I like that this is a local art form.”
From the Seagrove area to the Catawba Valley, North Carolina pottery is famous. “Our soil is rich in clay,” said Brian Gallagher, Mint Museum curator of decorative arts. “But what sets North Carolina apart is rich tradition, in which artistic technique is refined and perfected as it passes through generations.” This legacy combined with a loyal and sophisticated customer base attracts potters from around the country.
The Potters Market boasted an astounding array of ceramic art from N.C. artists: contemporary architectural planters by Ross Edwards (Spruce Pine); expressive face jugs by Steve Abee (Lenoir); iridescent raku pottery from Steven Forbes-deSoule (Weaverville/Asheville); wood-look-alike Kohiki pottery from Akira Satake (Swannanoa); the kaleidoscopic crystalline work of Will McCanless (Seagrove); and delicate celadon china from Charlotte’s own Julie Wiggins.
“It was rewarding to receive an invitation to show my work among so many people I look up to and admire,” said Wiggins, who moved to Charlotte after earning a graduate degree in ceramics from East Carolina University in 2001.
Through the nonprofit ceramics education center Clayworks, Wiggins found an “immediate community” and fast friend in Amy Sanders, a two-time Potters Market invitee. Sanders and Wiggins co-founded the grassroots potters club “Thrown Together,” through which they spearhead pottery sales that benefit nonprofits or potters in need.
Wiggins coats her white clay pots with celadon, a stoneware glaze that produces a range of colors: pale gold, grayish blue and willowy green. She places the work inside a 2,300-degree gas kiln which starves the fire of oxygen. This atmosphere provides the perfect environment for an iron oxide chemical reaction that creates the color she seeks.
“The blues, greens, and simple lines remind me of growing up at the beach,” she said.
Wiggins actually discovered the ancient celadon technique when studying abroad in China. In homage to the Song Dynasty of the 10th and 11th centuries, she hand-etches birds and flowers into wet clay and paints the etchings with slip, a dark liquid. Photographs of her process and pottery are online at www.juliewigginspottery.com.
“I was proud to see many of my local customers and friends new to the show coming out to buy pottery,” said Wiggins.
Cotswald resident Randi Morrison became familiar with Wiggins’ work long before attending the Invitational. Morrison first saw Wiggins’ vases serve as table centerpieces for a mutual friend’s wedding. “It’s truly one of a kind,” Morrison said.
In their quest to cultivate appreciation and collection of ceramic art, the Delhom Service League hosts the Potters Market Invitational to fund educational programs and ceramic art purchases for the Mint Museum. The group is named for Miss M. Mellanay Delhom whose pottery and porcelain collection bolstered the museum’s in 1965.
The Mint Museum’s collection started in 1937 with four pieces of Jugtown pottery from legendary potter Ben Owen. (The family dynasty thrives with Ben Owen III, who exhibited in Saturday’s event.) After ceramic enthusiast Daisy Wade Bridges co-funded the 1983 purchase of the Dorothy and Walter Auman Collection, the Mint Museum became the largest compilation of North Carolina pottery in the United States.
“The Delhom Service League considers a variety of factors in selecting potters to invite,” according to the head of the Potters Committee, Elsya Stockin. In addition to the quality of the artists, the committee seeks to represent every style and region of North Carolina pottery at a range of price points.
The committee also looks for new potters with talent and potential like Wiggins, “to keep the event fresh and interesting,” Stockin added.
“The stakes were high being the only Charlotte potter included and I wanted to represent myself, and our pottery community, with my best foot forward,” said Wiggins, who spent months firing 300 pots especially for the Potters Market Invitational.
It’s a good thing for Wiggins that she, and her work, are tough under fire.
Can’t get enough clay?
The potters collective Thrown Together will host a Fall Pottery Sale on Oct. 6 and 7 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event will feature guest potter Joy Tanner. For more information visit Facebook and search for Thrown Together.
On Oct. 16, Mint Museum Randolph will host “Traditional Pottery: Back to the Future,” featuring potter Garth Clark as the keynote speaker. The event will last from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will feature Mark Hewitt and Matt Jones. For more information: www.mintmuseum.org.