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Ackland Highlights N.C. Art History in Pottery Exhibition

The state’s most famous indigenous art form — objects created from clay — is being celebrated throughout this winter at the Ackland Art Museum.

“Tradition in Clay: Two Centuries of Classic North Carolina Pots” includes more than 100 pots and pottery vessels from North Carolina. The exhibition, which runs through March 20, includes works by masters from the Seagle, Fox and Ben Owen families and by Mark Hewitt, among others.

The exhibition is drawn from the Ackland’s growing collection of pottery as well as loans from local collections. It focuses on two major traditions in North Carolina pottery — utilitarian pots of the 19th and early 20th centuries and artistic vessels created in the 20th century.

Although produced for everyday food storage and fired with inexpensive salt and alkaline glazes, the stoneware jars, jugs, churns and crocks made from the 1820s to the 1940s exhibited a surprising beauty in their forms, colors and textures, said exhibition curator Terry Zug. In contrast to the muted, earthy hues of these earlier pots, the new art pottery of the early 20th century began to take on brighter colors and more elaborate shapes as potters began to produce wares that were intended to be seen as well as used.

“One of the great strengths of North Carolina pottery lies in its continuity,” Zug said. “In contrast to most other states, North Carolina’s potters did not cease work when the older wares were superseded by products of the industrial revolution. Instead, they stayed at their wheels and gradually transformed the craft.”

Zug, author of Turners and Burners: The Folk Potters of North Carolina, is a UNC professor emeritus of English and former chair of the folklore curriculum.

The richness of North Carolina’s pottery heritage and the fluidity of its practice are evident in “Tradition in Clay,” Zug said. Pots spanning 200 years illustrate both continuity and change in the forms, glazes and technologies used by the state’s potters.

Special events at the Ackland for “Tradition in Clay,” free and at the museum unless otherwise noted, include:

  • “Art-Ventures for Kids,” 10:30 a.m. to noon Jan. 8, the first of several Saturday classes for ages 6 through 9, taught by National Board Certified Art teacher Tamela Davis and others. Children will be guided through the galleries, then create take-home treasures based on new ideas from their tour and techniques they saw. In this first class, “Fee Fi Faux Pots,” children will view “Tradition in Clay” and learn about pottery-making in North Carolina. In the studio, they will transform Styrofoam cups and tissue paper into faux clay pots. Registration is required and limited for the class, which costs $15 for Ackland members and $25 for nonmembers. The fee includes materials. For more, contact Caroline Culbert at (919) 962-3342.
  • “Tea at Two,” 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Jan. 12, including tea, refreshments and conversation with Zug, curator of “Tradition in Clay.” Free to Ackland members, $10 for others, RSVP required. RSVP opportunity given first to Ackland members at the contributor level and above. Contact Allison Portnow.
  • Free public reception, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 13, including light refreshments and live music. Besides “Tradition in Clay,” guests may preview the exhibitions “At Work in the Wilderness: Picturing the American Landscape, 1820-1920” and “The Oldest Paintings in America: Utah’s Rock Art Photographed by Goodloe Suttler,” both opening Jan. 14.
  • Country music, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 16. Mary Lewis and Brian Lewis will perform music from the 1920s through the 1950s and offer historical information about artists who wrote and originally performed the songs.
  • “Out of the Studio: Ben Owen III,” 6 p.m. Jan. 20, a presentation by the award-winning and third-generation potter, whose work is included in “Tradition in Clay.” Owen will discuss the evolution of his artwork and his appreciation of family history.
  • Discussion of Lee Smith’s novel Oral History and “Tradition in Clay,” 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 20. Retired Ackland educator Leslie Balkany and Susan Irons, a UNC lecturer in English and comparative literature, will lead the discussion. Free to Ackland members, high school students and UNC students presenting UNC One Cards, $5 for others. Limited to 20 participants. To register, contact Allison Portnow.
  • “Encounter Art Tour,” 5:15 p.m. Feb. 3. Discuss “Tradition in Clay” with graduate student and Ackland guide Isabella Archer in a conversational tour of the exhibition.
  • “Tea at Two,” 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 9, including tea, refreshments and conversation with potter Mark Hewitt, whose work is included in “Tradition in Clay.” Free to Ackland members, $10 for others, RSVP required. RSVP opportunity given first to Ackland members at the contributor level and above. Contact Allison Portnow.
  • “The Authentics,” 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 20. Chris Reali and Reed Turchi will perform blues music.
  • “Tradition in Clay with the Ackland and Kidzu,” 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. March 10, for ages 4 through 8. Children will meet at the museum and explore the pottery on view. Then kids and parents will go to the Kidzu Children’s Museum at 105 E. Franklin St. for a hands-on studio activity. $5 per child, registration required. Call Kidzu at (919) 933-1455.

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