ARTS & VINE: Festival continues predecessor’s legacy with some of state’s best potters

May. 02, 2013 @ 04:58 AM

“Pottery” is no longer in the title for Sanford’s annual spring festival, but make no mistake.

Pottery is still king.

The first Sanford Arts & Vine Festival — which replaces the now defunct Sanford Pottery Festival after a successful 11-year run — will begin Friday night with a kickoff concert at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center and will continue Saturday and Sunday with artists, wineries, breweries and food vendors from all over the state.

Of the 80-plus artist vendors scheduled to appear over the weekend, more than half of the artists work with clay. The potters hail from all over the state, but the majority will be making the one-hour trip from Seagrove, world famous for its pottery.

“Lee County has a long history in the pottery tradition of North Carolina,” said Bob Joyce, president of the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce, one of the organizations heading the first Arts & Vine. Joyce points to North State Pottery, which operated in Sanford from 1924 to 1959 and worked with some of the best artists in the Piedmont, including M.L. Owens, Charlie and Braxton Craven and Emmitt Albright. North State’s owners, Henry and Rebecca Palmer Cooper, were recognized for developing their own system for the production, publicizing and marketing of pottery as art.

The North State mark is highly prized by collectors, Joyce said.

“Our Arts and Vine Festival continues to honor this long tradition in the Piedmont pottery culture of North Carolina,” he added. “From the Coopers and A.R. Cole in the early part of the 20th century to today’s pottery artists, Lee County is proud of its heritage in this art form.”

Boyd Owens, son of M.L. Owens and owner of Original Owens Pottery in Seagrove, said he’s glad to see Arts & Vine pick up where the Sanford Pottery Festival left off, and he’s happy to see that potters will be joined by artists of other mediums under the same roof.

“Some shows we’ve done, there will be 200 potters set up, and it’s almost overkill,” said Owens, whose shop is famous for its signature Owens red glaze. “To be successful at these shows, you need something that stands out. We don’t do many shows, but when we do, we bring our signature items. When everybody does that … the customers benefit.”

Also scheduled to appear this weekend is Sanford’s own North Cole Pottery, owned by Sandy Cole — granddaughter of A.R. Cole — and her husband, Kevin Brown. The Cole family has been making pottery in North Carolina since the 1700s, and A.R. Cole set up a pottery shop in Sanford along U.S. 1 in the early 1930s to lure tourists off what was then the main route from the industrial northeast to Florida.

“His pots were sold to tourists by the thousands from 1934 to 1974, and his work was even sold internationally, particularly in Cuba,” Joyce said. “The glazes perfected by Mr. Cole trended toward bright, rainbow colors ... colors that customers wanted to buy. He was an excellent businessman, in addition to being a creative genius.”

Returning to Sanford after a multi-year hiatus from the Pottery Festival is Ray Pottery, whose work has been featured in many of the promotional materials sent out by the Arts & Vine marketing team this year. Husband and wife Paul and Sheila Ray started their business more than a decade ago — a few years after Paul quit his full-time job to work in his parents’ pottery shop.

The Rays do about 18 shows a year, most of them in the fall, and Paul said the shows are important to his business because he’s not only able to sell his work, but he’s able to get his name out to the masses … those who wouldn’t typically make the trip to Seagrove.

“We won’t attend a festival unless we think we can profit from it,” Ray said. “It has to be worth our time, of course … but if someone at Arts & Vine approaches us, likes what they see and follows up online or in our shop later, then that’s great, too. You want to show your best work, and the residuals from these shows can be very beneficial.”