by A. Everette James Jr.
As seen in Antiques & Art Around Florida, Winter/Spring 2005
One of the more intriguing aspects of North Carolina art pottery is that a substantial number of examples are unmarked. The proper identification of pieces represents a challenge and adds to the pleasure of acquisition.
J. B. Cole pottery, one of the largest of North Carolina, employed a number of potters and marked less than 1% of the thousands of wares they made before closing the shop in the 1980s. In the 1930s they published a catalogue of their wares turned by the four potters of Waymon Cole, Philmore Graves, Nell Cole Graves, and Bascomb King.
J. B. Cole pottery had many contractual relations with other businesses to make pottery for them. They would identify the contracting institution by a stamp designed for that specific purpose. Thus, "Sunset Mountain" and "Goose Creek" are not potteries but wares made in the J. B. Cole shop for these businesses. Some collectors like to acquire examples with unusual locations designated by the stamp or label. The Hiltons in the Catawba Valley also produced wares for tourists in resorts such as Tryon where an art colony also flourished in the early to middle decades of the 20th century.
In a labor intensive, multi-tasked endeavor such as the production of handmade North Carolina art pottery, the lack of uniformity can be a problem or a virtue. Some of the pieces may not be desirable due to color and form. Conversely, certain examples will be visually attractive and unique. The variation of Rebecca pitcher or basket forms are almost infinite. The variety of patterns of chrome red or Chinese blue is limitless.
Arthur Ray (A. R.) Cole was both an accomplished turner and glazer. The unused hues of his 1930s glazes made Rainbow Pottery famous. The glazes developed by Henry Cooper, owner of North State Pottery, have created a following of collectors that seek only these examples of North Carolina art pottery. Certain of the glazes are rare and a number of the glaze combinations unique. The variety is so great that irrespective of the size of a collection it would not encompass all Henry Cooper’s oeuvre.
The glaze work of C. B. Masten, a potter from Indiana employed by C. R. Auman in the 1930s, produced some of the best decorative salt glazing seen in America. Master pieces often have an abstract distribution of the secondary, contrasting glaze. Examples of his artistry have become expensive. The very well illustrated exhibit of his work by the North Carolina State University Gallery of Art and Design demonstrated the originality and artistic breadth of his glazes.
Several accomplished Journey-men potters are only recently garnering the acclaim their abilities deserve. Often they moved from one pottery to another never to accumulate the identifiable body of examples necessary to develop a particular signature. Collectors sometimes acquire forms or glazes with a distinct similarity and by subsequent investigation, identify the potter.
Jonah ("Jonie") Owen began turning for his father at J. H. Owen Pottery before the 1920s. He was an early potter at the shop that would become North State under Henry Cooper.
Jonah Owen produced wares with his brother Walter before North State identified their products with a stamp (1924-1925). Many of the examples by Jonah demonstrated similar forms irrespective of where they were turned. Jonah’s glaze application sometimes had the exotic, somewhat abstract appearance not unlike C. B. Masten examples that would have come a decade later.
Rebecca Palmer hired Jonah Owen in 1924 and he brought with
him some of the shapes fashioned at J. H. Owen, his father’s pottery. The vase
with trophy-like handles is a notable example. Earlier in 1923, Bessie and Tweet
Hunter had hired Jonah Owen, Clarence Cole, and Cecil Auman to turn for them at
Log Cabin Pottery located in the Guilford College area. Jonah’s examples were
turned and often glazed at the Hunter site but fired elsewhere in Seagrove
making quality control difficult. The identifying stamp or logo was a log cabin
drawn on the bottom of the greenware, often by Myrtice Owen the designer. This
was later covered with glaze. Jonah Owen’s examples can only be designated by
their turning characteristics. Log Cabin Pottery was a short-lived operation
(1923-1927) and after it closed Jonah Owen set up his own operation at Sodom.
James G. Teague (1906-1988) is another of the journeyman Seagrove potters that we are now coming to appreciate the beauty and sophistication of his examples. Jim Teague was from a distinguished family of potters. His brother Charlie was the first potter at Jugtown, before Ben Owen, and "Duck" operated Teague Pottery on Highway 27 south of Hemp which is now Robbins.
James Teague operated his own pottery shop in the 1930s which he sold to C. C. Cole when Teague went to work for Fulper Pottery Company in New Jersey as a demonstration potter. In 1941 Teague returned to North Carolina and opened a shop making large pieces mainly for other potteries such as Joe Owen at Glen Art, M. L. Owens Pottery, and for his brother Duck at Teague Pottery. His son Archie (1935-1998) opened Hand T. Pottery with Archie’s father-in- law Homer Hancock in the 1960s.
Jim Teague’s skill as a turner is outstanding and any examples by him, if identified, are collectible. Often he used incised rings at the juncture between the body and neck of his vessels. He often made wares in which the height seems to be the achievement of the graceful form.
North Carolina art pottery has much to recommend it purely upon an aesthetic basis. However, part of the appeal not always present for other genre is the mystique, the unknown, and yet to be discovered associated with North Carolina art pottery. The collector and scholar are attracted to this intellectual aspect of this particular genre.
About the author:
Everette James, a native of rural Martin County, NC., was educated at the University of NC in Chapel Hill, Duke Medical School, Harvard, and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Dr. James taught at Harvard, Johns Hopkins, University College London, and Vanderbilt. He has published more than 20 books and 500 articles and established St. James Place, a restored historic Primitive Baptist church exhibiting over 400 examples of North Carolina pottery. He and his wife, Dr. Nancy Farmer, have donated their collection of Nell Cole Graves pottery to the North Carolina Pottery Museum at Seagrove and a survey collection of 250 examples to the Chapel Hill Museum. They live in Chapel Hill and are active in community affairs.
All illustrations taken from North Carolina Art Pottery by permission.