WESTMOORE – The generations-old practice of pottery flows like creative lava throughout this part of rural south-central North Carolina.
But visitors to the dozens of potteries scattered across as many as five ZIP codes in Moore, Montgomery, Randolph and Lee counties may be surprised by what they find there now.
Many 21st century potters have chosen to venture beyond the traditional utilitarian wares – or at least add to them – by developing interests in non-traditional looks and forms. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the two potteries, Riggs and Smith, whose pieces will be featured in the 2014 FirstHealth Hospice Auction as the People’s Choice.
The Hospice Auction, which annually supports the work of FirstHealth Hospice & Palliative Care, is scheduled this year for Saturday, Sept. 20, at Forest Creek Golf Club in Pinehurst.
“The People’s Choice was started a couple of years ago to allow the people who attend the auction to select the piece they think is the best piece there,” says auction committee member Holly Floyd. “It’s a way to engage our supporters while also recognizing the wonderful work of our participating potters.”
Barry and Susan Smith, of Smith Pottery, have participated in the Hospice Auction (formerly Hospice Pottery Auction) for 12 years, because it supports work that has meaning for both of them. His father and her grandfather were Hospice patients.
“If you’re going to support something,” says Susan, “I can't think of anything I’d like to support more.”
2013 Tie Vote
Charlie Riggs creates the smooth and shiny surfaces for which Riggs Pottery has become known. Linda, who has a master’s degree in anthropology, fires those pots in a way that echoes some of the ways humans have fired pottery for thousands of years. This includes using wood shaving and salt in pits and in clay containers.
Charlie has a B.S. in fine art-ceramics and has his own line of strictly raku pots that reflect his unique creativity with wave-like movement and various glaze layers. Linda hand-builds sculptural bowls and wall art that is later finished with one of her specialty techniques – saggar firing or naked raku.
They work together as teachers and workshop presenters and are nationally known for their naked raku and alternative firing techniques. They recently contributed material for the book “Naked Raku and Other Related Bare Clay Techniques.”
The product of a scientific household, Charlie discovered pottery quite literally by accident – after crashing his skateboard into the window of an art department ceramics studio. He also works in wood, recently making a coffee table for his and Linda’s home. Four years ago, he started making guitars.
“It’s a trait in our family,” he says. “If you do something, you have to make it from scratch.”
Susan Smith was the first member of her family to become enamored with pottery, answering the call of the wheel while taking a class at Montgomery Community College. As it grew, her interest rubbed off on Barry, who is now her business and creative as well as life partner.
He calls her “the girl on the wheel” while his current interests tend to focus on sculpture.
Their three children were raised in the pottery tradition and developed their own skills and styles before going off in very different professional directions.
“It was good for every kid,” says Barry. “They learned how to work and deal with people.”
For Susan and Barry themselves, pottery is something more.
“If you do something that you like, you will never ‘work,’” she says. “I think we just do what we love.”
“It just comes together whatever you feel like,” says Barry, whose background is in mechanical engineering. “It’s a ‘feel thing.’”
Life in “Pottery Country”
The Smiths are from the area and have been in the pottery business for 20 of their 28 years of married life. Susan calls the work “a neat way to express yourself.”
Charlie and Linda Riggs are from the West Coast and came east partly because she has family in Asheville. They discovered Moore County by chance during a weekend visit to Southern Pines.
Finding Seagrove and its community of potteries was just icing on an already well-decorated craftsman’s cake.
“I was happy to learn how huge pottery is here,” Charlie says.
The Smiths opened their gallery outside of Seagrove seven years ago and stock it with one-of-a-kind pots as well as functional tableware, sculpture and hand-carved wall art. Especially striking are Barry’s sculptures of winsome women, one hat-topped and coyly elegant and another ghost-like and appropriately called “the wind lady.”
“There are lots of things we have tried that were not what you were supposed to be trying,” Susan says. “It has worked for us.”
Because Charlie has a full-time job with Moore County Environmental Health, and due to their busy writing/teaching/presenting schedules, he and Linda don’t have a gallery as such and open their studio in the woods outside of Carthage by appointment only. Their work is displayed locally in the Campbell House Gallery in Southern Pines and the Great White Oak Gallery in Seagrove.
No matter where or how the connection occurs, Charlie has a common response.
“It’s so much fun to see a person walk by and see a piece of pottery or even pick it up to hold it,” he says. “When you can make a connection with a piece of art, to me, that’s the greatest reward.”