Wide Selection Of 20th Century Pottery From North Carolina Found In New England

A Brief Examination Of Asian-Influenced Pottery From Jugtown Pottery

September 15, 2023

Last year, I purchased a 20th century Chinese-inspired blue glazed earthenware vase from North Carolina at a John McInnis estate auction at the Masonic Hall in downtown Newburyport, Mass. The vase was a part of a large collection of antiques that came from a single-owner estate sale in Georgetown, Mass. I did not pay much for the unidentified vase, although purchasing this object gave me an idea for which I have devoted more than a year of some of my time with my niece, Alexis, scouring antique shops and flea markets throughout New England and the Northeast, looking for North Carolina pottery. My goal was to learn about the material based on what we found, a subject I initially knew little about, although my reasoning behind this was that I knew a large amount of North Carolina pottery was shipped to the Northeast in the early 1900s. In the early years of production, mainly in the 1920s, it was sold through a shop in Manhattan, and later, by way of another store in Cambridge, Mass. As a result, a variety of objects made in North Carolina migrated to households in New England and New York, ca. 1920s to the 1960s. In 1921, Jacques (1870-1947) and Juliana Busbee (1876-1962) established Jugtown Pottery near Seagrove in Moore County, N.C. By all accounts, the Busbees, who moved to the area from Raleigh, N.C., saved the Moore County pottery industry from extinction. Jacques Busbee had studied art and design in New York City. His wife, a photographer and illustrator, had actively promoted folk crafts as chair of the art department of the Federation of Women's Clubs of North Carolina. The Busbees collected local pottery and promoted Moore County potteries. They searched the area for examples of early traditional designs. For several years, the Busbees gave orders to local potters, including Ben Owen Sr. (1904-83), and shipped some of the wares to New York City, where they marketed the pottery at a tearoom in Greenwich Village operated by Juliana Busbee. To exert greater control over design and finish, the Busbees built the potters' shop, known as Jugtown, and hired and trained young potters to preserve the traditional shapes and glazes. Several Jugtown trainees later started their own potteries in the Jugtown community. Jacques Busbee most admired the primitive and early periods of Chinese, Japanese and Korean pottery, and at Jugtown he introduced translations of Asian ceramics, which is where he developed a Chinese blue glaze, largely based on objects that he had seen displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Under his influence, the Jugtown potters produced a great number of utilitarian and decorative pieces in a wide variety of glazes. Furthermore, Nancy Sweezy (1921-2010), who was an author and folklorist from Concord, N.H., studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. During WWII, she worked overseas in the Research and Analysis Branch of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Her interest in craft began with pottery lessons in New England in the 1950s. She worked in partnership with Ralph Rinzler and helped manage Club 47 (now Club Passim) in Cambridge, Mass., where she served as president of the board. She and Ralph, along with Norman Kennedy and others, formed Country Roads Inc. in 1966 to support folk arts educational projects, research, and marketing. The projects included a country store that was opened in Cambridge, which sold pottery from Jugtown, the Meaders family in Georgia, the Cole family in North Carolina, pottery from Bybee, Ky., along with other southern potteries and many Appalachian handcrafts. Sweezy and her group also purchased the Jugtown Pottery in 1968, and she moved to North Carolina to direct the operation and work with traditional potters in the area, later moving back to Boston in the 1980s. Based on this information that the Busbees and Sweezy were shipping North Carolina pottery to the Northeast, Alexis and I spent time searching New England and New York to see what we could find. Our most prized objects are three variations of Han Dynasty vases from China that were made by Ben Owen Sr. in the 1920s and 1930s, two of which are decorated in a Chinese blue glaze, while the third is adorned in a Dogwood white glaze. The white glaze was inspired from both Chinese and Japanese design, which won Owen a prestigious award in 1928. Nevertheless, a notable characteristic on one of the Chinese blue glazed Han vases that we found along the New Hampshire seacoast is the remains of an old price tag, and perhaps the original price tag for when it was sold in Manhattan. We also found a rare, ca. 1920s bowl or bell vase from Jugtown in Rowley, Mass., which, according to the Jugtown Pottery Museum, "Jugtown also has one of these early bowls in our museum. It is glazed in white with wonderful copper (most likely copper, chrome can render a similar color) decoration, brushed quickly and skillfully. It has grooves, made possibly with a finger or knuckle, while the pot was still turning on the treadle wheel. It also traveled north early in the 1900s before returning home. Jacques Busbee was very drawn to Asian design. This piece is unusual; who made it and who decorated it? We do not have a definitive answer yet, but we are so happy to see another one." Another object that we were excited to find in Portsmouth, N.H., was a large, vibrant glazed earthenware pitcher impressed with a circular mark on the base, reading, "A.R. Cole Pottery Sanford, N.C." Arthur Ray (A. R.) Cole (1892-1974) operated his first pottery shop in 1926 in Steeds, N.C. (near Seagrove), but in 1934, opened Rainbow Pottery in Sanford to be on the main North-South highway at the time, U.S. Route 1. In 1941, he began operating as A. R. Cole Pottery of Sanford. Additionally, we were told that this pitcher retained a local history of ownership, where it resided on a mantle for decades in an old house in downtown Portsmouth. Overall, though, we have found dozens of good examples of 20th century North Carolina pottery scattered throughout the Northeast region, many of which are adorned in outstanding glazes and even some examples that are marked on the base with the names of early pottery manufacturers from the 1920s-40s. A number of these objects also certainly migrated to the region through the stores owned in New York and Massachusetts by the Busbees and Sweezy. Sources Crawford, Mary Jean. "Jugtown Pottery: History and Design" A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School at The Women's College of the University of North Carolina in Partial Fulfillment for the Degree Master of Science. University of North Carolina, Greensboro, May 1962. Thomas, Justin W. "Rare Red Earthenware Urn Discovered At Newburyport Estate Auction." Antiques And The Arts Weekly, July 8, 2022. _____. "Guy Daugherty: A Roadside Craftsmen Potter." Antiques And The Arts Weekly, June 30. 2023.


More Articles