Thursday, August 13, 2009

Seagrove Potters for Peace build schools half a world away

Seagrove Potters for Peace build schools half a world away
Thursday, August 13, 2009
By Jeri Rowe Staff Writer
Accompanying Photos

Jerry Wolford (News & Record)
Photo Caption: A cup with a peace logo by Michael Mahan of From the Ground Up pottery and a cup with Potters for Peace text by Whynot Pottery.
Related Links
Audio: Interview with Greg Mortenson

SEAGROVE — On Saturday, in this stretch of Randolph County where the corn grows tall, 13 potters will start selling 200 mugs, tumblers and tea cups and donate everything they make to a man some call America’s Mother Teresa.
And it’s not just any mug, or any tumbler. Turn it over or look inside. You’ll see the familiar three-fingered symbol, or the phrase that says everything, “Seagrove Potters For Peace.’’
Potters need it.

Talk to them about last year’s so-called “war,’’ and they still sound wounded over the public spat about two festivals that ultimately boiled down to the pottery community’s artistic vision. Now, they say it’s over. It was just a small town disagreement blown out of proportion, big city big.
Still, it seems regrettable. Things got so emotional, rife with rumor and accusations, that it felt odd it even took place in this beautiful rolling landscape made famous by clay.

Yet, by coincidence, potter Beth Gore finished Greg Mortenson’s book “Three Cups of Tea’’ in March and said to herself, “Here is someone doing something I have always been talking about.’’

Mortenson’s 2006 book explains why he started building schools 16 years ago in Pakistan and Afghanistan after nearly dying climbing one of the world’s tallest peaks.
Since then, with the help of the nonprofit he created, Central Asia Institute, he has completed nearly 180 schools on the other side of the world where danger and violence reign.
His idea: Education can trump religious extremism in our war-on-terror world.
But Gore didn’t want to send a check. She wanted to enlist her talent. Create a mug — the most iconic piece of a potter’s art — involve other potters and raise money so Mortenson can build schools and promote peace.

That simple idea has taken off.
And now, thanks to the blog-friendly world of Seagrove, potters as far away as California and Utah have read about the idea and are thinking about doing the very same thing.

“It’s a nice contrast to the ridiculous 'Pottery Wars,’ ’’ says Gore, 54, a Seagrove potter for 22 years.
“I thought, 'Let’s do something positive. Let’s work for peace. Let’s make a little change in our corner of the world.’ ’’

In two weeks, Greensboro’s Canterbury School will begin its third year of raising money for the Central Asia Institute. So far, the school has raised nearly $32,000 — enough to build and support one school for five years.

It started with Elaine Hoover’s fourth-graders collecting pennies and selling lemonade.
In April, when Mortenson came to Canterbury for two days, all you had to do was talk to a few students and they’d tell you quickly what they’ve come to believe: Little people coming together can make a big change.
And maybe, talent — and a little collaboration — can, too.

Take 19-year-old Bayley Owen, the seventh generation of her potter family. She made cups for Saturday’s big sale because she sees the idea as “really cool.’’

Then, there’s Mark and Meredith Heywood, husband and wife potters who run Whynot Pottery. They’ve made mugs and tumblers, too. But for a different reason.
In July 2008, they lost their pottery studio. A lightning strike started a fire and caused $60,000 in damage.
The morning after the fire, people started to come. They wrote checks, brought food and donated studio space so the couple could continue their work. But mostly, they came over to listen. So, when Gore approached the Heywoods, Meredith told her husband: “We have to do this.’’
“Every act of kindness brings out another act of kindness,’’ Meredith, 56, says today. “It’s like a snowball.’’

A snowball the original Mother Teresa would understand.

“What we are trying to do may be just a drop in the ocean,’’ she once said. “But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.’’

Mortenson loves that quote. It seems Seagrove potters do, too.
Contact Jeri Rowe at 373-7374 or