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Chatham potter Mark Hewitt featured at Catawba Valley Pottery Festival

Posted Tuesday, March 17, 2009

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Pittsboro, NC - Three years ago celebrated Chatham County potter, Mark Hewitt (, built a new big kiln to fire alkaline glazes. He already had one kiln the size of a school bus, used for firing salt-glaze, but he likes alkaline-glazed pots so much he felt compelled to build a new kiln. “I guess it was because I love the color green,” says the English-born Hewitt.


The fruits of his most recent firing will be for sale at this year’s Catawba Valley Pottery Festival, March 27 and 28 at the Hickory Convention Center. It’s the first time Hewitt, 53, has attended the festival, and he will also be the Guest Speaker, his talk entitled, “A Few of My Favorite Things about North Carolina Pottery.” The Catawba Valley Pottery Festival is well-known as one of the region’s best loved pottery festivals, drawing pottery enthusiasts and collectors from near and far. Hewitt comments that, “Regional pottery traditions are very rare, they are a little like wild flowers that only grow in certain special soils and climates. A unique set of economic, historic, and cultural conditions have allowed the pottery tradition in the Catawba Valley to survive from the in the early 19^th century until now. It’s quite miraculous.”

Recently in his Chatham studio, Hewitt talked about his first visit to Lincoln County in 1981, before he and his wife settled in Pittsboro, NC, in 1983. When they visited Burlon Craig, Hewitt was immediately drawn to Craig’s time-tested methods, “Not many potters used local clays and fired in wood-burning kilns back then,” Hewitt explains. “Most studio potters were, and still are, trained to get clay from a supplier, not from the ground.” Hewitt’s own apprenticeship, thirty years ago, to legendary potter Michael Cardew back in England, taught him about using local materials, so he felt quite at home standing on Craig’s clay pile, dug from the nearby “Rhodes Clay Hole,” and crawling into his groundhog kiln. “I felt comfortable there, it all made sense. I was used to doing it all from scratch, and here was a rare place where the old methods were still being used,” he said.

He remembers that first visit, standing in the doorway of Craig’s workshop, quietly watching Craig turning large jars one long afternoon, and when Hewitt finally announced that he and his wife had to leave, Craig looked up and said, with a twinkle in his eye, “So, what’s your hurry?” Says Hewitt, fondly, “I knew I could live in a place like that.”

“Twenty five years later Hewitt’s reputation has grown,” notes Forrest Greenslade, Chatham Artists Guild President. In addition to his fine quality work, he has written extensively about NC pottery, and in 2005 he co-curated with Nancy Sweezy, former Director of Jugtown Pottery, the exhibition, “The Potter’s Eye: Art and Tradition in North Carolina Pottery,” at the North Carolina Museum of Art, in Raleigh. His work is eagerly sought by collectors at his three annual kiln opening sales at his home near Pittsboro, people line up early in the morning to seek out his treasures.

His larger pots are to be found at the Smithsonian, the High Museum in Atlanta, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, but his pots remain affordable. “Many of my pots are priced at less that $50, and I’ll be bringing plenty of my apprentices’ sweet little vases and cups that are less than $10.” His current apprentices, Joseph Sand and Alex Matisse will be traveling to Hickory, as will two former apprentices of Hewitt’s, Matt Jones and Daniel Johnston, who regularly sell at the Catawba Valley Pottery Festival, along with many other fine potters and antique dealers from across the region.

“I love alkaline glazed pots,” says Hewitt, “It’s taken me a while to figure out how to make them, but the alkaline glaze tradition means a lot to me and I’m excited to make my contribution to it. Bringing my new Chatham County alkaline glazed pots to the Catawba Valley is a little like “taking coal to Newcastle”. I’m bringing some pretty good-looking pots, and there may even be a few diamonds hidden in the coal.”

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Chatham potter Mark Hewitt featured at Catawba Valley Pottery Festival
Hewitt's 900 cu. ft. kiln is a modification of a 14th century kiln from Northern Thailand, and is similar in firing principle to the Southern groundhog kiln.
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