|Five years ago, a stroke sent Lee County potter Rob Bartee reeling in his
backyard studio. The residual effects of that traumatic day linger as Bartee—
his voice stolen by the stroke—still struggles to turn thoughts into words.
He returned to pottery, the “passion” he discovered
as a flower child of the ’60s, after a couple of years of
rehabilitation. Because he can’t throw big pots the way
he used to, he used a slab-built technique to create a clay
memorial to the “heroes” of 9/11. He has donated the piece
to the FirstHealth Hospice Foundation for its fall 2008
Pottery Plus Auction.
“I wanted to do something for FirstHealth for helping
me with my stroke,” he says.
Bartee knows something about
heroism. It took nothing short of
heroic effort to battle his way back
from the stroke’s physical ravages.
And, although he doesn’t talk about
them, five awards for valor recall
his service in Vietnam, a period that
began after he was drafted just out of
A large clay piece mounted in his
living room serves as a memorial to
his Vietnam experience and honors a
fallen Army comrade. He and Bartee
were first lieutenants and platoon
leaders in the same company.
This “signature piece” has a special
spot in Bartee’s home on Chris Cole
Road just south of Sanford. He and
longtime companion Joyce Brown
share the place, and he named his
pottery, “Shovelin’ Barefoot,” for her.
“We were working in our garden,
and Joyce was working barefoot,” he
recalls. “You have to have some tough
feet (to do that).”
|Rob Bartee’s clay memorial to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, will be featured at the Oct. 4 Pottery Plus Auction at the Country Club of North Carolina in Pinehurst. The piece recognizes all of the “heroes” of that awful day—the New York Fire Department, the New York Police Department, the Port Authority, the Pentagon, the resisting passengers of United Flight 93, the people trapped in the World Trade Center and the passengers on the two planes that hit the Twin Towers. “It just came to me,” he says of the design. He spent five months working on the project. Although he can no longer throw big pots, the slabbuilt technique of the 9/11 memorial allows him to turn out occasional large pieces. “It enables me to do two big pieces like the Twin Towers,” he says.
A passion for pottery
Bartee was studying visual arts at
the University of South Florida when
he discovered pottery. “I made good
grades in all of them, but I picked
ceramics,” he says. “I was searching
for my passion. I didn’t think ceramics would be it until my
senior year, but pottery was it.”
He took a couple of pottery courses before being drafted,
and for the next six years substituted his love for pottery
for duty with the U.S. Army. He was tapped for Officers
Candidate School and deployed to Vietnam as a second
By the time he left the Army, he was a decorated first
lieutenant plagued by flashback memories of Vietnam.
Years later, the “signature piece” would help him deal with
the memories and the loss of the friend who died just nine
days before he was scheduled to leave Vietnam for home.
After the Army, Bartee settled in California, earning
his living as a carpenter while making pots part time. “I
continued to do it part time over the years,” he says.
In 1989, he moved across the country to North Carolina,
“because that’s where my people were,” to pursue his
dream of full-time pottery-making. “It has been good to
me,” he says.
Bartee and Joyce established both home and studio in
their quiet Lee County community,
and their backyard shows signs of the
life they built together—a shaded deck
just off a bubbling koi and goldfish
pond and in sight of a play area for
her two grandbabies, the children of
In that comfortable place, shared
by a couple of noisy Siamese cats,
Bartee was living his dream, winning
awards for the design and quality of
his functional and designer stoneware,
and selling his distinctive pottery in
galleries, at craft fairs and from his
The stroke changed everything.
A rehabilitated life
After the stroke hit him, Bartee
stumbled to the kitchen door and
Joyce, who called 911. He spent a
week in Central Carolina Hospital
in Sanford before being transferred
to FirstHealth Moore Regional in
Pinehurst and another year and a half
traveling from Sanford to Pinehurst
and back twice a week for outpatient
He is especially grateful for that
help. “I wanted to thank the outpatient
therapists for helping me with my
stroke,” he says.
The stroke took his voice, which he
has regained but with the aphasia that makes it a physical
struggle to verbalize thoughts, and sapped him of the
energy he once had for pottery. No longer strong enough
to do the big artistic pieces for which he was noted, he now
limits himself to a couple of pottery shows a year.
He did 15 to 20 before the stroke.
Pottery remains his passion, however, and he spends as
much time as possible working in his “Shovelin’ Barefoot”
“My pots are my whole life,” he says.