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Pottery Revival in Catawba Valley
The name "Burlon Craig" surfaces memories even for North Carolinians who are not potters. Not only is Burlon a familiar face in the pottery community, his work is so well-known around the state that people come to Catawba Valley pottery festivals from throughout North Carolina, just to buy a piece of his work. As far as North Carolina is concerned, Burlon Craig is the Michaelangelo of clay. Those of you who were a part of Folkways' beginning may have remembered a program in 1982 that featured the famous artist. Pottery Revival in Catawba Valley not only revisits Burlon 16 years later, but it introduces the apprentices and succeeding generations who carry on his tradition.
Burlon's favorite pottery style is the face jug. In addition to face jugs, he makes several more traditional pieces, but all of them leave his hands practically the moment he takes them from the kiln. Kim Ellington and Charlie Lisk, two potters who learned how to turn pots by watching Burlon in the studio, now each have their own shops. But the greatest testimony of Burlon's success is his son, Don, and his grandson, Dwayne, both who have taken up pottery as a trade but have implemented their own styles.
Watching the kiln be loaded with pots, jugs, bowls and other figures fascinates the entire community, and host David Holt and author Charles Terry Zug allow us to watch this tedious process. More fun than watching the Craigs fill the kiln, however, is buying one of their finished works, as several satisfied holders of their works will tell you. As Burlon watches the next two generations keep the business and tradition alive, he takes a humble look at his own mark on the art. For him, pottery is no more difficult than breathing.
Three Generations of Craigs
Burlon Craig was born in 1914 in Hickory, North Carolina. Burlon first learned how to turn pots at 14 by watching a western North Carolina potter. In 1942 he joined the Navy and returned to Vale, North Carolina afterwards to farm, where he has lived ever since. Most of his pottery is fashioned in 19th century styles, and he makes both utilitarian pieces and face and monkey jugs. The distinctive swirl on his jugs, which he creates by layering several different colors of clay, is Burlon's mark on his pieces.
Burlon's son, Don, learned the craft by watching his father work. His work takes on a more artistic style than his father's, as he does some pottery sculptures as well as more traditional pieces. His sculptures are often whimsical, as he makes a humorous face jug as host David Holt looks on. Some of his jugs exhibit more grotesque characteristics, as protruding eyes or tongue or different positioned and shaped jugs. In addition, he heats his products in a gas-fired kiln, rather than the wood-fired kiln that most of the older potters use.
Dwayne completes the chain of Craig potters as Don's son. Like his father, he learned from Burlon as well, as he would sit beside him and watch the master at work. Sometimes his grandfather would walk him through turning pieces as he tried his hand in the art. Dwayne's style is more similar to Don's than to Burlon's, as Dwayne sculptures figures into his pottery as well. He distinguishes his sculptures, often consisting of leaves and berries on the side of his jugs, by colorful glazes that match the appearance of the real item. His bird sculptures, while looking like carved pieces, are actually turned on a wheel as well.
North Carolina Arts Council
North Carolina's link to arts in this state. The Council and its staff are resources for information about the arts in North Carolina and as an industry.
Folkways: The Potters of Seagrove
Learn about some of the potters of Seagrove, North Carolina, the famous center for pottery in the South. Part of the 300 Folkways series, this program visited Sid Luck and many of his students and contemporaries. The site includes information about pottery styles and some North Carolina pottery resources.