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 cobalt blue slip or simple incising. The pots were almost entirely utilitarian. Here the Busbees 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 late 1917. 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 area's utilitarian shapes and
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, JH Owen 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 northeastern states - almost certainly sold in New York City by Mrs. Busbee at her Tea Room. Some pieces bear the J.H. Owen stamp, a few bear the Jugtown stamp and are clearly from the hand of J.H. Owen. However, 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 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 rememberd 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 almost 10 years, when 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
During the decade that followed the founding of Jugtown in 1917, Mr. Busbee worked with Charlie and Ben to refine the forms and glazes that would cement the pottery's foundation. Many of the shapes were translations of ancient Asian forms, that were allowed to become their own - under the skillful hands of the potters and the keen eye of Mr. Busbee. The pots native to the area were also still produced; beautiful in their own right and brought to new audiences who appreciated their humbleness.
Mrs. Busbee led the marketing effort at Jugtown. First at The Village Store in New York City, then joining Jacques at the pottery by 1930, she worked tirelessly to make Jugtown known far and wide. A wonderful writer and great networker, Mrs. Busbee "preached pottery to anyone who would listen". Her efforts paid off. By the time The Village Store closed in the late 1920's, the business was thriving and would be able to draw collectors and enthusiasts to it's corner of Moore County for decades.
The death of Jacques Busbee in 1947 was a loss to Jugtown and the state of North Carolina. The North Carolina Museum of Art created the Jacques Busbee Memorial Collection and a subsequent show of Jugtown pots that he visioned. His death did not deter Ms. Busbee, who vowed to continue Jugtown in his honor. She pushed on, continuing to advocate Jugtown Pottery and the wonderful crafts of her beloved state.
By 1959, Ms. Busbee was in failing health and Ben Owen left to start his own business, Old Plank Road Pottery.
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 Mare's sudden death in 1962, Vernon leased the pottery and kept it going until 1968 when it was sold to Country Roads, Inc.
Nancy Sweezy, potter and director of Country Roads, Inc., 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. The glazes were complex, having 7 to 10 ingredients in each. They evolved into the Blue Ridge Blue, Cinnamon, a different Tobacco Spit, Mustard Green and Dogwood White. She also experimented with Cobalt and Copper glazes in the wood kiln. They also continued with Salt Glaze, Frogskin and variations on White. Bobby Owens and Charles Moore 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.
Travis (b. 1985), the son of Vernon and Pam Owens began working with clay as soon as he could walk and grew up learning the craft from his family. Travis received a BA in Art and Design at North Carolina State University in 2007.
Bayle (b. 1990), the daughter of Vernon and Pam Owens joined Jugtown full time in 2015, after attending Heywood College in Clyde, NC.