Pottery links Sanford, Chinese city

Leaders welcome official relationship
Feb. 20, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

Pottery makers in Lee County and the surrounding area are well-known for their art, which attracts visitors from all across the state and country each spring for a pottery festival in Sanford.

Now, local government officials and community leaders are looking to capitalize on the region’s pottery reputation by forging official relations with Yixing, a Chinese city known internationally for its own artists’ pottery.

If the project comes to fruition, Sanford would be just the second or third North Carolina city to create official “sister city” ties with a city in China. Pinehurst already has a sister city, and Durham is working on developing one.

Officials in both Sanford and Yixing are interested in establishing a relationship. Former Sanford Mayor Cornelia Olive reached out to her Chinese counterpart, starting the project. When Chet Mann became mayor several months ago, he continued those efforts and has said that informal delegations from the two cities could visit each other soon — possibly in early May, when both cities hold pottery festivals.

Mann was quick to add that the trip would not be paid for by city funds. He and other local leaders have also discussed pooling their money to help fund local artists who also want to go but might not be able to afford such a trip.

In addition to establishing ties and possibly having the two cities agree to an artist exchange program for potters from the two areas, Mann said he would like to see if the two cities could host exhibits of pottery from the other, showing it off, selling it and using it as a tourism attraction.

“Part of the reason for the cultural exchange would be a business exchange,” he said. “So part of it is artistic, and part of it is economic.”

There are economic possibilities unrelated to pottery as well, Mann said: Sanford and Lee County could possibly use the Sister City tie to foster business relationships or even woo development from China, the world’s second-largest economy behind the U.S.

At a recent lunch meeting, Mann and other leaders in government, education and business all said they’re excited about the propect of a sister city and might be interested in serving as part of Lee County’s visiting delegation.

On the other side of the world, enthusiasm appears to be equally high.

Yixing Mayor Zhang Lijun sent Mann a letter in late January introducing himself and his city, as well as welcoming “interchanges and mutual development.”

Compared to the cities it sits between — Nanjing, the regional capital, and Shanghai, the most populous city in the world — Yixing is a relatively small city of 1.3 million people. Bordered by a lake and a national forest, it also has a more rural feel than its neighbors.

Lijun added, however, that the pottery is just as beautiful as the scenery.

Yixing has a bit of a head start on Central Carolina’s pottery industry, having started making teapots in the 10th century and establishing a steady trade route with Europe by the 17th century.

Several hundred years later, that pottery tradition led Sanford to open the courtship between the two cities, which Lijun has welcomed wholeheartedly.

“Chinese has an old saying that is, ‘Long distance separates no bosom friends,’” Lijun wrote in his January letter to Mann. “Although Sanford and Yixing are separated by long distance and different languages, we share industrious, kindhearted and arts-loving people, especially the same heritage in ceramic arts.”

He said he’s working on putting together a delegation to visit Sanford and wished Mann a happy Chinese Lunar New Year.

Mann has since been working on a response letter with help from the Carolina China Council, which also assisted Durham and Southern Pines in their own sister city negotiations.

Lian Xie, president of the China Council, also suggested setting up a nonprofit committee to manage the project and plan ahead for after the relationship is official.

“In the meantime, it is important for the Sanford Sister City committee to begin brainstorming ideas on what Sanford wants to accomplish in the coming years through the sister city relationship, whether these objectives are educational, cultural or business,” Xie said.