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Montgomery Community College

Pottery Program


Troy, NC

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It’s no accident that Montgomery Community College offers degree programs in gunsmithing, pottery, taxidermy, forestry and shooting sports management. The college’s well-established niche programs are a natural outgrowth of the cultural tradition of the Uwharries region.

Much of Montgomery County’s economic development has depended upon the natural resources in and around the area. The college fulfills its mission as a tool for economic development by providing qualified graduates for jobs that center around the county’s natural resources.

For example, MCC’s Professional Crafts: Clay program, established in 1972, is one of only four associate degree programs in the state that center around the artistic manufacture of clay items. The craft of pottery-making is reasonably unique to the area and many of the Seagrove potters have come out of MCC’s pottery program including such notables as Phil Morgan, Mack Chrisco and David Garner.

The area’s pottery tradition however, dates back to the 1700s when many English and German potters were drawn to the region because of the quality of the clay, both the red clay that lies near the surface of the ground, which they used for earthenware pottery, and the gray clay found deep in creek beds, ideal for making sturdier stoneware.

MCC’s first pottery instructor was Zedith Teague Garner who was a sixth generation potter. The fledgling program stressed the functional pottery tradition of the area and included instruction in clay, clay bodies, hand building, wheel throwing, firing, glazing and kiln construction.

The program has changed somewhat over the last 30 years; however, the current instructor, Mike Ferree, continues to bring to his classes the time-honored techniques of classic potters.

Ferree’s students range from seasoned potters who come back to school explore their special interests, to younger students who are either curious about the craft or want to pursue a four-year degree in a fine arts curriculum. Ferree’s mettle is tested by the younger students who want to learn new ways to pursue an old craft.

 

 

“My younger students want to see results ‘now.’ I keep telling them it takes time to learn the techniques they will need to be good potters,” Ferree says. He has learned to be flexible and help them come up with ways to increase their production while staying true to the basics.


For example, when students get frustrated and need a break from the pottery wheel, which is admittedly one of the hardest potter’s skills to master, Ferree allows them to hand-build an item or two. They still have to decorate, glaze and fire the pieces, all of which are parts of the process.

While Ferree teaches students the important elements of form and design, the curriculum emphasizes production pottery making. Graduates from the program learn that making pottery for a living includes being able to create many pieces in a fairly short period of time on a regular basis. They also learn that producing pottery is not the only skill required to make a living as a professional potter.

For this reason, the curriculum for the associate degree program in Professional Crafts: Clay includes a course in entrepreneurship. The hands-on course takes students through the process of writing a viable business plan. After examining their market, the cost of start-up, and the time involved in operating a business, students can use the experience to help them decide whether or not they are cut out for self-employment.

Graduates from the program do not all necessarily want to start their own businesses. Some may go on to apprentice for professional potters, others may continue their education and use their skills to become occupational or recreational therapists or teachers.

Whatever their goal may be, students continue to come to Montgomery Community College, located in the heart of the Uwharries, to study the classical pottery heritage of the area, and to keep the cultural tradition alive.

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