Recently the NC Dept of Cultural Resources announced an intention to develop a Heritage Trail, the North Carolina Pottery Highway. Highway 705 was designated by the state as Pottery Highway, as it is in the center of the birthplace of NC pottery. A meeting was held. Susan Greene, Ben Owen and Ed Henneke joined by phone expressing support and gratitude for a project that would help to bring more people to our area. Present at the meeting were representatives from the Museum of Traditional Pottery and Sanford's Mayor and Chamber of Commerce. There were many negative comments expressed and as a result the NCDCR issued the following. So now another great project is tabled.
Each trail builds upon North Carolina's excellent reputation as home to artists of unparalleled quality and distinction and rich living traditions. The goal is to stimulate cultural travelers and residents to discover unique and authentic experiences, contribute to the creation of jobs and spur economic growth.
While there is strong support for three trails, there is dissent about the North Carolina Pottery Highway. That trail is about the outstanding pottery and ceramics traditions of Randolph, Moore, Montgomery, Chatham, and Lee counties.
There are some enthusiastic supporters of the North Carolina Pottery Highway who see it as a means to boost tourism and help market pottery. However there is not basic agreement on fundamental project components, such as appropriate name and whether or not there should be kiosks, informational panels, or maps.
I have a letter that I have written as an open letter to Sanford (which as you probably don't realize is 50 miles from Seagrove) about their incessant need to be a part of Seagrove, rather than drawing on their own history and standing on their own. This was edited at Jugtown.
This letter is addressed to those in Sanford that have worked so diligently to ensure that Sanford is considered a part of Seagrove.
Both communities have a history of pottery making with the Owen/Owens, Teagues, Auman’s, Craven’s, Luck’s and Coles’s working in Seagrove. The first recorded potter after the settling of NC by Europeans, in the Seagrove area was Peter Craven recorded in 1750. There has been an unbroken link of pottery made continuously in the Seagrove area since then. This is what makes the Seagrove area unique. Some of the early family potteries continue operation today. It is important today that communities try to build on their history and heritage. Seagrove has the long standing tradition and has continued to build upon it creating a set of boundaries that surround a 15 mile radius. Two potteries in the Seagrove area remain in operation since they were started, Jugtown since 1917, Original Owen’s has operated since it’s founding in 1895 by James Henry Owen and Ben Owen Pottery since 1959. Many other generational potters are carrying on a long standing tradition such as Sid Luck and Fred Teague, while others are starting a new family generation of potters such as the King’s. It is important in preserving authenticity and cultural heritage for generations to come.
Lee County’s history of pottery making stands with North State Pottery, operating from 1924-1959 and AR Cole Pottery. The Coopers, who opened North State, had a close working relationship with the Ceramic Engineering Department at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. Some of the Owens family members from Seagrove were recruited to work there such as Walter, Elvin and Jonah Owen. The economic conditions during this period were such that they needed to find work. AR Cole moved his family to Sanford in 1934 and opened Cole Pottery. It continues to operate today under Neolia Cole, his daughter. A.R. Cole’s son, Foister Cole operated a Pottery in Sanford from 1977 until his death in 1991. Sandy Cole, granddaughter of A.R. Cole, and her husband Kevin also operate North Cole Pottery in Sanford.
In creating a cultural heritage tourism draw to a community it is important that the authenticity and historical aspects of the community be preserved and shared with the public. Seagrove has an ongoing tradition that the community is intent on promoting and preserving. Hosting a large pottery festival does not automatically make a town a pottery mecca for more than the hours of the show. Only 9% of the participating potters were from Sanford, the rest from all over NC and three other states.
Sanford has two historical potteries, one of which is ongoing, and a group of potters today carrying on the traditions. Do Celia and Neolia Cole consider themselves to be Seagrove or Sanford potters? I think that this is an important question that your community should address, because though some may want to change history, it is what it is. There are roots that developed from the pottery making community of Seagrove, which helped to develop the pottery heritage in Sanford, just as there are roots to the potters from overseas, however that doesn’t make them a part of any overseas community. Build on your history, be proud that you had potters come to your area and start businesses and that there is a tie to such a well known community. But considering the geographic diversity, one would ask why the community wants to ride the apron strings of Seagrove, rather than promoting your own heritage and history. Why is there a strong intention to confuse the public into thinking that it is not a 50 mile distance between the two towns? Brick making has a strong historic and current aspect of the town of Sanford, which perhaps would tie in well with the history of the pottery making in the early 1900’s in Sanford.