In 1983 Mark and his wife Carol bought a charming but dilapidated old farm at the end of a dirt road that has served as their home and pottery ever since. Over the past thirty-seven years they built two kilns, raised a family, renovated the house and farm buildings, survived damage from hurricanes and tornados, and hosted thousands of visitors. Mark and his apprentices make fine pots and Carol handles the business side of things. They love being in North Carolina, deeply appreciate their hometown of Pittsboro, and are grateful for all the relationships built over the years and for their deep connection to the area’s pottery community and tradition.
At the Mark Hewitt Pottery, clay sourcing and preparation is at the heart of the operation, just like cooking with good ingredients. North Carolina has several excellent clays which Mark blends into a very plastic, attractive, and durable clay body. Mark and his team make a full line of tableware for domestic use, and a range of planters and vases for the garden. Mark is renowned for his very large pots, planters, jars, vases, and jugs. All pots require years of practices to master, and despite having been potting for over 40 years, Mark still finds room for improvement!
The Old (Salt) Kiln
The old kiln is the size of a school bus! It is 900 cu. ft., and is a modification of a 14th century kiln from Northern Thailand. It is similar in firing principle to a traditional Southern groundhog kiln, with a firebox at one end, and chimney at the other. It holds about 1500 pots, big and small, and takes 5 days to load. It’s fired with wood to 2400 degrees F. We blast salt into the kiln when it is at its peak temperature giving the pots a distinctive glossy exterior. The firing itself takes three days and then a week to slowly cool down. The kiln has one main chamber with 10 side-stoking holes along the each side to help move the heat from front to back. Each part of the kiln has a particular “micro-climates” which determine how the pots turn out. Some areas get choked with embers, some are clean and hotter, learning where to place individual pots and executing each firing correctly takes years of practice and expertise. Unloading is always a thrill! Pots from this old kiln are stamped with a number (99, 100, and so on) that corresponds with the firing.
The Newer (Alkaline) Kiln
In the summer of 2007 my former apprentice, Zac Spates and a team of enthusiastic helpers, built a second big kiln. It’s a three-chambered climbing kiln, based on a Japanese design modified by Kevin Crowe in Charlottesville, VA. We built the new kiln in order to experiment ash/alkaline glazes and high temperature reduction glazes, like celadons, which are significant elements of the wider Southern pottery tradition. I had wanted to pursue these other traditions, alongside the salt glaze tradition, after co-curating “The Potter’s Eye: Art and Tradition in North Carolina” at the North Carolina Museum of Art, in 2005-2006, which detailed the history and contemporary manifestations of the regional ceramic heritage. Previously I had been firing both styles of pottery in the old salt glaze kiln, which still produces wonderful pots, but now, with two kilns, I enjoy exploring a larger the palette of colors and decorative techniques. Pots from this kiln are stamped with a letter (starting from A, B, and so on- even “elle” for there letter L) that corresponds with each firing.
The Gas Kiln
In 2015 Mark was awarded a United States Artist Fellowship, which was not only a great honor, it also came with a grant that enabled him to buy a large Bailey gas kiln. In it he mostly pre-fires pots to biscuit temperatures, around 1700F, which precedes glazing and glaze firing. Occasionally he uses this kiln to re-fire pots that are somehow deficient when they come out of either of the other two kilns and can use an extra boost. He also uses the gas kiln for glaze testing, and calcining raw materials so they can be broken up and milled into usable glaze ingredients. Even more rare are glaze firings from scratch, full of pottery fired solely in this kiln. Firing 103G and Firing g, which Mark was able to fire during the COVID-19 pandemic while his apprentices were furloughed is a case in point.
We are very happy with those pots from both those firings. Firing 103G pots are stamped 103, as they were intended for the 103rd firing of the Salt Kiln, but ended up in the gas kiln. Before loading them in the gas kiln Mark added a small black dot alongside the 103. The next load are marked with a small 'g.'
These two firings were also the inaugural pots that featured in our new online store!