The North Carolina Visitor Center






Potters, like other craftspeople, are a mix of opposites: they value the solitude of the time they spend working in their studios, while having a clear appreciation of the value of community. As someone who must frequently organize craftspeople to work together, Denise Cook  (Director of the Toe River Arts Council) uses the phrase "herding cats" for good reason.


So when a group of potters based in Mitchell and Yancey Counties organized themselves to create an annual event called The Spruce Pine Potters Market (SPPM) there was considerable skepticism about its chances for success. With the third annual SPPM approaching on October 10 & 11 and two very popular and successful events accomplished over the past two years, those skeptics are scratching their heads in amazement.


The SPPM is organized and run by the participants as an invitational show for thirty of the region's best potters.  It's a community, "family" operation. Through their work the artists bring the fierce privacy of their studios to a group setting and invite the world in for a visit. Individuals and community: the hand of the maker reaching through the clay pot and sculpture to touch the heart of the user.


The diversity of both the individuals and the work will amaze the visitor. From striking figurative sculpture to handsome and energetic functional pottery, encompassing stoneware and earthenware and everything in between, the SPPM gives the visitor the opportunity to get "up close and personal" with clay artists ranging in age from their twenties to their eighties.


Consider Jane Peiser, age 77, who came to western NC in 1969. She makes pots and sculpture of colored porcelain, using a technique adapted from glassblowing. But like the other participants in the SPPM, it was not only the satisfaction of working with clay that drew her to her craft, but the lifestyle as well: being self-employed, the sense of community, and the blurring of boundaries between what is work and what is play. While enrolled in a Masters of Liberal Arts Program at Duke University years ago, her curiosity about the things that come with ”the studio life” led Jane to do a study and survey about craftspeople and retirement. Every Saturday for six weeks Jane hosted a dinner for a different group of 6 to 8 craftspeople, after which she handed out a set of questions concerning retirement and tape-recorded the conversation. The consistent theme was that the craft artists didn't have anything they wanted to retire from, and their overwhelming concern was to stay fit and healthy in order to continue making their work into very old age. 


Everyone knows that you don't have to be a rocket scientist to make pottery, but Jon Ellenbogen has lived that maxim first hand. After earning a PhD in Engineering Science from Columbia University, Jon spent four years working on America's first missile defense system at Bell Laboratories. On a whim he enrolled in a clay class as a total beginner in 1973 and promptly left his previous life behind to become a potter. He met his future bride a year later in a class taught by Cynthia Bringle, and he and Rebecca Plummer, working together as Barking Spider Pottery, have lived a mile down the road from Penland School of Crafts ever since.

Some people, at an early age, are clear about what they want their working life to be. Artists seem inclined to do more wandering, sampling different professions before the discovery of self-rewarding work becomes a priority that makes the risks of financial uncertainty worthwhile. Tzadi Turrou went to 5 colleges, including the American College in Paris, though none of her majors were art related. After college her employment choices included Computer-Assisted Instruction and Administrative Assistant to the Director of Cultural Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin as well as working for a commodity trading company selling software for trading in the stock markets. Tzadi has lived throughout the U.S. and Europe. But then at age 32, while living in Cambridge MA, she took a clay class at a nearby ceramics center. Working with her hands in clay was immediately and deeply satisfying and she stuck with it. In 1984, after years of making pottery, she developed a line of tiles based on a Moorish silk screening technique. But it is her more recent tile work, in an Arts and Crafts style initiated by a commission for The Grove Park Inn of Asheville NC that has proved the most challenging and rewarding. Owning and operating her own studio and working at her own pace has given Tzadi the means and flexibility to raise her two daughter at home as a single parent.


Pam Brewer comes from a military family. Her father's position in the Special Forces required that the Brewers be constantly on the move: as a child Pam went to 11 different schools and lived in 10 different places, in the US, Europe, and Japan. After graduating from the Art Institute of Atlanta in 1975, Pam began her professional life in Interior Design in Dallas, Texas. That was followed by work with an Architecture Firm, a stint as a Real Estate Agent, and owning and operating Brewer-Sarvis Construction, a design and construction company on the coast of South Carolina.  In 1999 at the age of 45 Pam began working in clay. She was initially drawn to clay as an accompaniment to her mosaic work, but in 2003, following a workshop with NC artist Alice Ballard, clay sculpture became her primary focus. Pam's peripatetic childhood and varied career path have helped form her sense of what's important: life is ever-changing, and security and stability are more likely to be found in a firm sense of self.


For the visitor, a walk through the Spruce Pine Potters Market is to enjoy the astounding singularity and diversity of objects made from clay. Talk to the artists and you step into a rich variety of backgrounds and interests. Thirty potters, each with a unique story told through their work in clay. The setting for the show is the historic Cross Street Commerce Building, built in 1932 to house the Hampshire Hosiery Company and rededicated as a multipurpose facility in 2005. Besides the outstanding clay work the event offers creative, home cooked food from the kitchen of artist Erin Peters, and you're guaranteed a weekend that pleases all members of the family both inside and out.


3rd Annual Spruce Pine Potters Market
(Free admission and free parking)
Cross Street Commerce Building
31 Cross Street (look for signs)
Spruce Pine NC 28777
October 10 & 11, 2009
Open 10 am – 5 pm
For more information visit the website at