Nestled in the countryside of North Carolina you’ll find the largest concentration of working potters in the United States. The tiny town of Seagrove, only 0.7 square miles with a population of 228, boasts the big title of handmade pottery capital of the United States.
Along with a few neighboring towns, within a 20 mile radius, you’ll find about 100 pottery shops; 70 of which are open to the public. The shops offer a range of pottery, from functional everyday use, to sculptural, folk art, historical forms and even face jugs.
Seagrove, which is located in Randolph County, North Carolina, is famous for it’s pottery that dates back to the 18th century and before the American Revolution. This part of North Carolina has near perfect clay for pottery that is also famous for the red hue that has been nicknamed “Seagrove red”.
Many of the first Seagrove potters were Scots-Irish immigrants. At that time most of the pottery produced was functional, glazed earthenware. Today the potters are considered artists and expert craftsmen. You’ll find every kind of pottery you can imagine and here are a few of my favorite pottery shops in the handmade pottery capital.
North Carolina Pottery Trail
Original Owen’s Pottery
Original Owens Pottery, founded in 1895, is the oldest pottery shop in the state with six generations who have worked the wheel creating pottery. Today, it’s operated by Boyd Owens, who continues the long tradition of Owens family potters spanning three centuries. The pottery continues to produce traditional dinnerware, and the famous Owens red glaze pottery “finish” that are the signature pieces.
The signature red was created in 1945 and the clay comes from two feet under the soil. Going through 1,000 pounds of a clay a week and creating 300 pieces a day, Boyd estimates that there are four more years that they will have the special clay to create their red glaze.
Owen’s Original is a must-stop , not merely because the Owens family is one of the older pottery making families in this area, but because the shop is filled with beautiful pottery, a collection of vintage bicycles from the 1940’s-1960’s and to watch Boyd Owens at the pottery wheel as he shares his stories of Seagrove and the world of pottery.
Eck McCanless Pottery
Another shop where you can catch the artist at work is Eck McCanless Pottery. Eck is a second generation Seagrove potter who focuses on Agateware pieces.
His approach to pottery celebrates the clay itself and manipulation by the potter’s hands. His process includes turning four different colors of clay together on the wheel, then skillfully controls the clay so that the pattern becomes a featured aspect of the piece. Eck creates pottery with these mixed colors of clay to create beautifully complex pieces that are truly one of a kind.
I had never seen a face jug before visiting Ryan at McKay Pottery. The tradition of pottery with faces dates back to Egyptian and Mesopotamian times and face jugs trace back to the United States and the African slaves who worked on American plantations.
What I was told was slaves were not given or could afford tombstones, so they would make a jug that was as scary looking as possible. Then, if in one year, the jug was not broken, it would mean the loved one was going to heaven. They have evolved into a form of art and are still quite common in North Carolina for many uses today. To learn more about the history, check out this video.
Ryan offers a unique twist on the Face Jug and offers customized creations using photos to create a truly one-of-a-kind piece of pottery.
Great White Oak Gallery
Benjamin & Bonnie Burns of Great White Oak Gallery create pottery that is influenced by Oriental masters. Their pieces feature glazes and techniques of the East specializing in Ox Blood and focusing on combinations of blues and greens. They also create hand decorated specialty items in porcelain, white stoneware and tiles hand painted with exquisite wildlife and floral motifs.
Bruce & Janice Latham’s pottery is mostly utilitarian, offering pieces such as coffee mugs, pie plates, large vases, dinnerware, honey jars, candle cups of many styles, lotion bottles, toothbrush holders, canister sets, large and small casseroles, and a lot more. Their specialty is a hand turned basket with hand made flowers on top and both sides.
WHEN TO VISIT Seagrove, North Carolina
The best time to visit is in the shoulder seasons; from March through May or from September through November, when it is less crowded and hotels are less expensive.
If you enjoyed this article about Seagrove, North Carolina, you’ll also love Raleigh: A Museum Mecca.
Traveling To North Carolina Soon? Here are a few tips:
How to get there: Seagrove is located in Randolph County, North Carolina, in the south-central part of the U.S. The closest airport is Raleigh Durham International Airport (RDU) and it’s a 1 hour and 25-minute drive to Seagrove from the airport. Google Flights is my favorite for checking for the best airfare. It searches all flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).
Where to stay: When I visited, I stayed at the Hampton Inn of Asheboro. The hotel is just 15 miles from Seagrove where you will find these amazing pottery shops. There are also two historic B&B’s in Seagrove;
What to pack: The temperatures each season vary greatly. In winter you’ll see occasional snow with low’s in January of 29 °F and a high of 52 °F. I visited in August and the high was 94 °F and low 62 °F. You’ll also find rain in the summer months. I was very happy I brought along a travel umbrella, as we had several days with spurts of rain. If you are visiting in Winter, you’ll want to bring fleece lined leggings, a light down jacket, warm socks (I love Ice Breaker), a waterproof outer layer and rain jacket, and some hiking boots (I love Keen).
5 Indispensable Items to Pack for a Seagrove Vacation
- Get the Fodor’s The Carolinas & Georgia Travel Guide.
- Bring a good quality mirrorless camera for capturing some great photography. I use the Sony Alpha a6000 .
- Summers are hot in North Carolina, so make sure to pack Neutrogena Sunscreen, Broad Spectrum Spf 45
- A great cross body travel bag. Cross body bags prevent theft and are much easier to access.
- Don’t forget sunglasses for the beautiful sunny days in Seagrove. A.J. Morgan Unisex Sunglasses are a great choice and very affordable!
Read More About North Carolina
While I was an invited guest of Randolph County Tourism Board, this is a totally independent and honest review based on my experience. A special thanks to Randolph County Tourism Board who showed me the very best of the county. Another thank you to Travel Media Showcase (TMS)! Thanks to TMS, I got to experience the fascinating pottery culture of Seagrove, North Carolina.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.
Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.