Playing with Clay

Area autumn pottery festivals you don’t want to miss!

Makers and admirers have long had a great love affair with clay. It can be shaped into incredible works of art as well as functional items for everyday use. Plus, the sky’s the limit when it comes to eye-catching glazes, different techniques and unusual designs. The Carolinas boast a variety of autumn pottery festivals that showcase the immense talent within our states’ borders. (Event details subject to change. Contact each event for updated information.)

Piedmont Pottery and Pickin'

There’s a new twist to this year’s pottery festival at historic Brattonsville in McConnells, S.C. With new culinary and musical elements, the former Piedmont Pottery Festival is now Piedmont Pottery & Pickin’. 

“The pickin’ stands for music and southern barbecue,” says Karen Cox, education program manager. “However, the potters remain the big deal. Festival goers can meet the potters, see their individual styles, and talk with them about their processes.”

Cox expects 20 to 25 potters to attend this year’s festival — mostly from the piedmont of North and South Carolina. Festival events take place in Historic Brattonsville’s Hightower Hall on Sept. 23 this year. 

Western N.C. (WNC) Pottery Festival

It’s a juried event in Dillsboro, N.C., for the 13th annual WNC Pottery Festival, which means the event draws the best of the bunch. It’s unique in the fact that potters are selected from all over the country. This year, more than 40 potters will showcase their work on Nov. 4, representing about 17 states. 

“People are in line at 9 in the morning. Once the gates open at 10 a.m., you’ll see people running to specific booths to get first pick of the pottery,” says Joe Frank McKee, festival founder and owner of Treehouse Pottery. “It’s really funny because you’ll see people you’d never think would be out there running to a booth.” 

Adverse weather doesn’t even affect festival visitors. McKee says the best festival turnout was the year it snowed, and the temperature dipped to 40 degrees.

“One guy had snow all over his pots and he still sold out before noon,” shared McKee. 

McKee came up with the idea of the festival on a whim. He originally thought they would rotate to different western North Carolina towns, but the festival has found a home in Dillsboro. Co-founder Karen Barnes, who runs Riverwood Pottery with her husband and daughter, has a tip. She recommends if you want to see hilarious, spontaneous creations, show up on Front Street on Friday, Nov. 3 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. 

“A lot of potters have traveled a long distance so they can unwind before the festival with a little throwing competition in our Clay Olympics,” says Barnes. Events include creating the tallest cylinder in five minutes and throwing a pot while blindfolded.

Carolina Pottery Festival

Established in 2001, the Carolina Pottery Festival in Shelby, N.C., showcases varied styles of pottery including decorative, traditional, contemporary and sculptural. 

“We have approximately 100 potters who show their work, so from that aspect we may be one of the largest in the Southeast,” explains festival co-founder Vicki Gill of Bluegill Pottery. Events originally took place on the Cleveland County Fairgrounds. Today, it’s celebrated indoors at the Legrand Center, just across the street from its original location. The festival is held Nov. 4, 2017.

Seagrove Festivals

Seagrove, N.C., is known as the handmade pottery capital of the U.S. Here, pottery lovers have learned to reserve the weekend before Thanksgiving for two big events — the annual Celebration of Seagrove Potters and the Seagrove Pottery Festival, both held Nov. 18 and 19, 2017. 

“It’s grown into two festivals to accommodate all the potters and the people who come,” said Tammy O’Kelley, executive director of the Heart of North Carolina. “It’s the only time of year that all of the Seagrove potters come together in one place. Otherwise, it could take you two weeks in Seagrove to visit all the pottery shops.” 

Both events include pottery demonstrations and chances to mingle with the potters. O’Kelley explains that some artists don’t have their own shops, so the festivals provide a way for their fans to appreciate their work.  

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