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Woodfire NC 2017

Starworks, Star, NC

Mark Hewitt

Thank you, Nancy.  This conference couldn’t have happened without your leadership or the staff and facilities provided by Starworks.

The collaboration of between the Starworks and the North Carolina Pottery Center was pivotal in the conception of Woodfire NC, and it’s been a delight for our two institutions to work together, sharing resources and talents to bring this conference into reality.

Working with the members of the conference organizing committee has been wonderful, and I’d like everyone on the organizing committee and the staff at Starworks to join me here and introduce themselves.

Without the hard work and collective talents of this group, the conference could not have happened, and I’d like to acknowledge your individual skills, your hard work, your dedication, and your individual joyful personalities. We’ve had some good laughs along the way, and I know we are all delighted to have put together such an exciting program for you over these next three days.


The conference would not be happening in this part of North Carolina were it not for the venerable tradition of pottery making that has existed here in the Seagrove area continuously for two hundred and fifty years. As you saw last night in exhibition at the Pottery Center, “Great Pots from the Traditions of North & South Carolina,” the wider Southern tradition has produced some spectacular pots. Showcasing them in this exhibition confirms their importance in the history of American pottery and grounds the conference in the venerable traditions of the region.

This is a good place for potters, and it is appropriate for the conference to be here.

Potters tend to congregate, whether here, in Shigaraki, La Borne, or Stoke-on-Trent, and cooperate with each other to share materials, labor and markets. There is strength in numbers.

It is also true that frictions exist within all pottery communities. Rivalries and rancor can permeate a community and sour the spirit of a place.

On that note, I’d like to tell you a story that my friend Andrew Glasgow told me recently. Andrew spent a week in Seagrove interviewing potters for the lovely new book, “Controlled Burn.” Among other things he asked each potter to give one word to describe Seagrove.

My jaw dropped when he told me Vernon Owens’ response.

Vernon, at this point in time, is the patriarch of our regional tradition; he was born here, has several generations of pottery making forebears, started potting when he was 7 and is now 76.

He has seen many ups and downs during the course of his life as a potter here and witnessed many changes, especially in the last 30 years with so many outsiders moving in, like many of us, bringing changing styles, and increased competition.

So, it came as a surprise when the word Vernon used to describe Seagrove was, “devoted.”

Well, of course!!

I should not have been surprised, because underlying all the noise and chatter is a deep delight and pride in the community. This community is devoted to the idea of Seagrove and the actual place of Seagrove. Potters here may be rivals, but we share our talents, we acknowledge each other’s valiant efforts, and help where we can – as neighbors do. We admire each other’s work and are delighted in each other’s successes.

We may not be able, or willing, to express our delight in each other on a regular basis, but Vernon’s word recognizes that, in fact, we do.

This conference is a manifestation of that same devotion.

The program has been created in the same spirit of sharing, of collaboration, and of mutual respect.

The organizing team is devoted to the success of the conference. Will it be flawless? We hope so, as the effort has been heroic and the intention noble.

We are also devoted to the subject of the conference, namely wood firing.

In addition to meaning loyalty, commitment, and dedication, devotion also carries a spiritual connotation, suggesting devoutness, even piety.

Those of us who wood fire know that the process demands devotion.

Our many speakers know this, too, and our discussions this weekend will be riveting.

We’ve assembled an absolutely stellar group of panelists and demonstrators. To those of you who have travelled halfway around the world, thank you for your devotion.

To those of you who have travelled from across America, thank you for your devotion.

To those who’ve just cruised in from nearby after all the pre-conference firing shenanigans, thank you for getting out of bed…. and for your devotion.

To all the attendees who have spent good money and taken time away from work and family, thank you for your interest, and devotion.

In addition to our panelists and demonstrators, we are very excited about our plenary speakers: Sequoia Miller, Louise Cort, Peter Callas, Henry Glassie, Rob Hunter, Anne Mette Hjortshoj, and Jack Troy.

Welcome to our conference. We eagerly await your insights into the broader aspects of our practice. Thank you for your… scholarship.


This is a conference about the current state of wood firing, the original subtitle was, “Where did we come from, where are we going and what do we need?”

What we will be doing these next few days is examining the state of our discipline, finding who is doing what, why, and how. We will be exchanging information – formally and informally, discovering best practices, being challenged by new ideas, being stimulated by experimental activities, and being delighted by our many diverse voices.

I doubt, however, that this conference will be a panacea; we won’t find a cure (indeed is there a cure for wood firing?). Wood firing will always be demanding, but by Sunday, we will have gained much from being together, and we will all have a better understanding of our fiery and turbulent trajectories.

Thank you.

I’d like to hand this session over to Adam Landman, who works at Starworks, who will let you know the details of this amazing building and the nitty-gritty details of the conference.