Pottery Workshops Fill Up as People Travel to Connect Over Clay

Founded in 1929 to give Appalachian women a means of earning a living, the Penland School of Craft in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina — where clay was designated the “official state art medium” in 2013 — draws artists and hobbyists with a range of programs in different media. Summer clay workshops generally last between four and 12 days, during which participants live on the 420-acre campus, and focus on a range of functional and decorative aspects of pottery.

A three-hour drive east, the town of Seagrove, which has one of the highest concentrations of working potters in the country, advertises itself as America’s pottery capital. The area is home to more than 50 pottery shops, studios and galleries as well as the North Carolina Pottery Center, a museum dedicated to the craft. Among its residents, Seagrove counts eighth- and ninth-generation potters, as well as a growing number of young apprentices and clay artists.

Tipping the scale from the utilitarian to the artful has long been the mission of the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts, in the foothills near Helena, Mont. Nearly three-quarters of a century after the Bray was founded, the world appears ready for its contemporary take on clay.

“Somewhere in the pandemic,” said the foundation’s current director, Rebecca Harvey, “whatever that hierarchy was, whatever that boundary between art and craft was, seems to have just evaporated.” She pointed to the expanding number of artists, galleries and museums — among them, the Metropolitan Museum of Art — that in recent years have started to embrace clay work.

For those interested in exploring, the Bray offers two-hour experience classes open to the public in July and August. Pieces are fired at the end of each class and ready for pickup two weeks later. Starting in 2024, there will also be short-term workshops year-round. Artist residencies and symposium-style programming are ongoing.

What Next?

Recent Articles

Leave a Reply

You must be Logged in to post comment.