Designated in 2005 as the “State Birthplace of North Carolina Traditional Pottery,” Seagrove owes its deep ceramics roots, in part, to geology. The high hills and interaction with the coastal plain in the region “allows ash to settle in the water to create really good clays,” explains Lindsey Lambert, executive director of the North Carolina Pottery Center.
The clay’s origins trace back more than 500 million years, when tectonic shifts and volcanic activity formed the Uwharrie mountain range in central North Carolina (one of the oldest in North America). Molten rock just under the Earth’s surface in this part of the Piedmont plateau was densely packed and, over the course of millions of years, became igneous rock and then finer soil, abundant with feldspar minerals—calcium, alumina, silica, and sodium. During firings, silica hardens clay, while alumina slows the baking process to prevent cracking or breaking. And artists have been mining the material for centuries.
Early ceramic production in what is now central North Carolina was happening 300 years ago. The indigenous people of the Saponi, Keyauwee, and Siouan cultures were creating functional and ceremonial objects from redware clay. And in the 18th and 19th centuries, as the region became more accessible to European colonists—due to the the Great Wagon Road between Pennsylvania and Georgia, and a major train depot designed by engineer Edwin G. Seagroves—they, too, found that pottery could provide a vital source of income.