The History of Jugtown Pottery

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Jugtown Pottery began in 1917, after the chance discovery of an orange pie dish by Jacques and Juliana Busbee, artists from Raleigh, NC. They soon traced it to Moore County and found, along with orange and earthenware, salt glazed wares being made by the local potters. Salt glaze wares, were produced by adding salt to the kiln near the end of the firing at or near the maturing temperature of the clay. At times these were embellished with blue or simple incising. The pots were almost entirely utilitarian. Here the Busbee's saw an opportunity to be directors in the survival of a then dwindling craft. As they began to find a way to market these pots, Juliana set up the Village store in Greenwich Village NY. later at 37 E. 60th Street. The shop was open by the first of 1918. The first orders for pots for the Village store were given to potters with their own wheels and kilns, Henry Chrisco, Rufus Owen, James Owen and J.W. Teague. These potters made the shapes that were familiar to them, the utilitarian pieces that had served their needs for generations. The Busbee's soon found that they wanted to go beyond the areas utilitarian shapes and glazes.

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JH Owen repairing a clay mill
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JH Owen candlestick

The first potter to work with the Busbee's was J.H. Owen. J.H. Owen, son of Franklin Owen, was born in 1866. It is not clear whether Franklin was a potter. M.L. Owens (who added the s to his sur name) recalled in an interview that J.H. Owen learned to turn under Pascal Marble, whose shop was south of Seagrove. In 1910 J.H. set up his pottery on the site which is now the Owens Pottery, owned by Boyd Owens. By 1917 he was making pots for Jacques Busbee. He turned, decorated and fired these pots at his workshop, as the Jugtown shop was not yet built. Purchased by the Busbees, the pots were then sent up to the Village Store Tea Room. J.H. Owen also made pots for his own shop. Many examples of these early orange and salt glaze with cobalt pieces have been found in the north eastern states. Some pieces bear the J.H. Owen stamp, a few bear the Jugtown stamp and are clearly from the hand of J.H. Owen.

 

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The majority are not stamped, but are attributed by example of his distinct folk style. At the time (1922 or early 1923) that the Jugtown stamp was made, J.H. Owen began stamping his personal wares with his own stamp. Quite possibly the Jugtown stamp and the J.H. Owen stamp were made at the same company together. The two stamps are similar in style. This would also explain why fewer stamped pieces by J.H. Owen have been found.

charlie teague 1.jpg (14929 bytes) Charlie Teague was the second known potter to be hired by the Busbees. Charlie was born in 1901, the son of potter John Wesley Teague. He learned to turn in father's shop. He was the first potter to work on location at Jugtown in the brand new workshop built in 1921. Charlie was a skilled hand at turning and because he, like J.H. Owen, predated the Jugtown stamp, many of his first unmarked pots were sold through the New York Tea Room. Charlie and his wife Annie lived with Jacques Busbee for several years, while Juliana ran the New York shop. Annie did the cooking and housework while Charlie turned, their son Garrett was born during this time and remembers Jacques Busbee fondly. Charlie worked at Jugtown Pottery until 1931 or 1932 according to the recollection of Annie Teague. He died of pneumonia in 1938 at the young age of 37. Knowledge of Charlie's and J.H’s pots remained unknown until the 1980’s. Teague’s style is becoming more recognized, being different than either that of Ben or J.H.’s

 

Ben Owen was hired as the third known potter for Jugtown Pottery in 1923. He was born in 1904, son of potter Rufus Owen. Ben learned to turn in his father's shop. He joined Charlie Teague at the pottery and they worked together for ten years. (Circa 1932), Ben became the sole potter at Jugtown. A willing and skilled young turner, Ben produced for over thirty years, many extraordinary forms for the Busbees. He traveled at times to museums and socials with the Busbees. For more information on Ben Owen go to http://www.benowenpottery.com
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Ben Owen 1938

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Ben, Juliana and Jacques Busbee

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Frogskin pitcher by Ben Owen

In 1960, John Mare bought Jugtown Pottery, Juliana lived in the Busbee cabin until her death in 1962. Mare hired Vernon Owens as the Jugtown thrower. Vernon was born in 1941, son of M.L. Owens and grandson of J.H. Owen. Vernon learned to turn in his father's workshop and by age 7 was making pots to sell. At Jugtown he was encouraged to hone the skills he had developed. At first he dutifully copied the forms of early Jugtown pieces but that became a frustration and he began to let the old pots be an inspiration to develop his own forms. After Juliana’s and Mare's sudden death in 1962, Vernon leased the pottery and kept it going until 1968 when it was sold to Country Roads, Inc.

John Mare

a new stamp
vernon bob and charles 1.jpg (58250 bytes) Beginning in 1960, Vernon turned the pots while brother Bobby Owens and Charles Moore glazed, loaded and fired the kilns. They continued with the early glazes except for the Chinese Blue, adding Mare Blue to the palette.
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Nancy Sweezy

   director and potter, changed the earthenware glazes to fritted lead glazes and they were fired in upright oil kiln with shelves, soon after Country Roads purchased the pottery. Fritted lead glazes were acceptable at this time and there was an attempt to keep the glazes as close to the early Jugtown glazes as possible. Sweezy, developed a new line of higher temperature glazes in the early seventies. The main objective was to have lead free glazes. Frits were being developed without lead in them, but they would not produce clear orange earthenware that Jugtown was after. The decision to move to cone 6- 2200 degrees F. was based on durability, reaching the maturing point of the clay. Sweezy had worked with Isobel Karl in NH with stoneware glazes and she now began lowering some of these glazes to create new glazes. The new line was to be higher temperature than the old orange but lower than stoneware and therefore more economical. She developed a completely different line of colors. These were sold wholesale and retail. The glazes were complex having 7 to 10 ingredients in each. They evolved into the Blueridge Blue, Cinnamon, a different Tobacco Spit, Mustard and Dogwood White. She also experimented with Cobalt and Copper glazes in the wood kiln. They also continued with Salt, Frogskin and variations on White. Bobby and Charles prepared clay and glazed the pots while Vernon fired the oil kilns.Through the Apprenticeship study program set up by Sweezy, over thirty pottery students came to study at Jugtown from 1969 through 1980. Pam Lorette was one of those apprentices who came in the late 1970's to study at Jugtown.

Vernon continued working at Jugtown Pottery through the ownership of Country Roads, Inc., a nonprofit corporation whose mission was the preservation of hand crafts. He worked closely with the director, Nancy Sweezy.  In 1983 Country Roads, Inc. moved on to another project and Vernon bought the pottery and has run it, together, with his wife Pam Owens since then. Pam and Vernon opened the Jugtown Museum in 1988. The Museum provides information and inspiration on Jugtown's early development.

Jugtown Pottery was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. Vernon received a North Carolina Folk Heritage Award from the NC Arts Council in 1994. In 1996 he received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Vernon received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from North Carolina State University in December of 2000.

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Vernon Owens
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Pam Owens
   
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