Saturday, July 26, 2008

North Carolina Pottery Center

Below is a brief history of the North Carolina Pottery Center written by the Current director.

A Brief History of NCPC

In response to recent letters and articles across the state regarding a fracture that has developed among Seagrove potters, the North Carolina Pottery Center (NCPC) would like to clarify issues regarding the Center and its history referenced in many of the articles. Opened in 1998 in Seagrove, the NCPC mission is to promote public awareness of North Carolina’s remarkable pottery heritage. The Center welcomes and informs visitors to the Seagrove area, enriching their experience through exhibitions and educational programs, and promoting potters working today across the state. The Center has permanent as well as changing exhibitions of contemporary and historical NC and regional pottery. Because of its museum/education mission and nonprofit status, the Center does not operate festivals nor do we create maps. Those projects are managed by other area organizations.

Raleigh architect, Frank Harmon, created the Center’s award winning design. The exhibition and education buildings were constructed on nine acres in Seagrove with $750,000 of state funding matched by $750,000 in private funds. The Center includes a 4,000 sq. ft. exhibition area, a 1,500 sq. ft. educational building, two operating kilns, and a Victorian home which, hopefully, will house a pottery library and study center. On granting the building funds, the State stipulated that the Center represent pottery-making traditions and potters from across the state, not only Seagrove.

Today, with an operating budget of close to $300,000, NCPC remains a private nonprofit, funded primarily through memberships, grants, admissions, and appropriations. The single largest income stream is the annual auction of pottery donated by potters from across the state. Randolph County has provided $25,000 in annual funds since the Center opened. The NC Department of Cultural Resources provided $13,000 in operating funds until 2006 when support was increased to $25,000. The NC Arts Council has also provided restricted grant funding for special programs such a as teacher renewal credits and pottery making projects with Seagrove Elementary School students.

The initial inspiration for the Center came from two legendary Seagrove potters, the late Dorothy (Cole) and Walter Auman. The couple opened Seagrove Pottery in 1953, at a time when there were only seven potteries remaining in the area. In 1969, they moved the old Seagrove train depot to an area behind their shop and opened the area’s first museum, the Seagrove Potter’s Museum, where they also regularly featured the work of contemporary potters. The Aumans were recipients of the first North Carolina Arts Council Folk Heritage Award in 1989, and in 1990 received the Governor’s Distinguished Service Award for Lifetime Achievement for their continuing support to the NC pottery traditions.

To promote the idea of a permanent pottery museum, Dorothy and Walter encouraged pottery lovers across the state to create a new organization, subsequently named the Museum of Traditional North Carolina Pottery (MTNCP). Through auctions of donated pots and gate receipts from their annual Seagrove Pottery Festival, funds were raised to purchase a nine acre tract of land and a house in Seagrove. In the late 1980s, Dorothy Auman became a founding member of the North Carolina Pottery Center. Led by the Aumans, and with the assistance of the existing members of the MTNCP, the North Carolina Arts Council, and many potters and pottery aficionados from across the state, funds were raised to match the state commitment to construct the Center’s facilities. The MTNCP then became a fundraising group, the Friends of the North Carolina Pottery Center, and managed the Seagrove Pottery Festival.

Some members of the Seagrove pottery community and the Friends group, however, believed strongly that the Center should focus only on promoting Seagrove pottery. Given the mandate of the state legislature that the Center represent the entire North Carolina pottery heritage, this became a contentious issue that could not be resolved. In 2001, the Friends group dissolved its relationship with the Center. The departing group resurrected the name MNCTP and took the rights to the Seagrove Pottery Festival. The North Carolina Pottery Center maintained ownership of the property and buildings and continues today to offer a full schedule of museum exhibitions and pottery programming, including demonstrations, workshops and student education.

Recent discussions between the NC Department of Cultural Resources and the Center’s Board were directed at solving a chronic funding shortage for operation of the Center and to expand the museum and education activities held there. Given the State’s substantial investment in the building of the Center, the Board of NCPC offered to give the assets of the organization to the Department of Cultural Resources if funds could be identified to support staff, programs, and general operating expenses. These funds are not expected to be available for the new fiscal year and the Board is now dedicating its energies to finding stable long term funding.

Denny Mecham
Director, NCPC

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