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East Fork – The South

What’s Your Hurry?
by
Mark Hewitt

Back in 1983, my wife, Carol, and I travelled around the South visiting folk potters, some of whom were still making and firing pots the old way. As a young Brit serving an apprenticeship with a potter in Connecticut, the South was unknown. Of course, I knew the larger themes of its history, but details can be hazy when you’re young, idealistic, and on a mission. I wanted to set up a pottery, and I knew the South had clay, and wood for the kiln, and that land was cheap. Ramshackle farms dotted the land; I kept telling Carol, “That would make a good place for a pottery.”

We stopped to see Catawba Valley folk potter, Burlon Craig, on the way to Asheville. I saw his clay pile and walked straight to it, and like a gardener approaching a magnificent compost heap, I knew that pots could grow here. His large groundhog kiln and small workshop filled with pitchers, churns, and jugs, confirmed that he was still, defiantly, doing everything from scratch.

I stood in the doorway, mesmerized as I watched Burl turning a large crock, rhythmically pedaling an old upright treadle wheel, standing tall as the clay grew. Later I saw some of the astonishing 19th-century, alkaline-glazed pots that had been made nearby. It was like listening to music made in the 1830’s – strange, miraculous, refined, daring, and alive, and I was Keith Richards or Eric Clapton discovering the Blues.

Carol was outside chatting with Burl’s wife, Irene. It’d been two hours, and I could hear Carol fidgeting. It was time to move on. I shuffled my feet and announced it was time to leave. Burl looked up with a twinkle in his eye and said, “What’s your hurry?” I knew I could live here.

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