Friday, July 5, 2013

Pisgah Forest Pottery

After Gary mentioned he'd read in the local paper of folks advertising wanting Pisgah Forest Pottery, I decided to do a little research. Above are examples of pots by Walter B. Stephen, 1876-1961, who ran Pisgah Forest and Nonconnah Potteries in Western North Carolina. Stephen is credited with creating some of the first crystalline pots in the Southern United States.

The first pottery, Nonconnah, was begun by Walter and his mother near Memphis, Tennessee about 1907. They dug clay from Nonconnah Creek with Stephen creating the shapes and his mother applying multi colored slip decorations to matte green surfaces.

Stephen moved to Skyland North Carolina in 1913 and started a second Nonconnah Pottery. It was there where he developed his crystalline glazes and his cameo wares, which are similar to wedgewood jasperware but are not molded but hand painted with porcelain slip in layers. Scenes from daily life such as covered wagons and Indian camps decorated the outside of his pots.

When I saw the cameo ware created by Stephen it reminded me of the slip decoration work I did in 2009/2010. For the white feather vase above I used a black stoneware clay and applied a thin white stoneware slip in layers. (Not the best photo).

I think it's the sharp contrast of white against black that is so appealing. That and the depiction of scenes from every day life that appeals to so many folks. I was also reminded of the dancing crows bowl I made with thin black slip painted on white clay. Ah, the places clay can take us. Perhaps I'll get back to some of this work when I get settled again.

In 1926 Stephen began his third pottery Pisgah Forest where he developed his cameo ware and crystalline glazes. Stephen was a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild. Some of the major exhibitions of his pottery have been in the Mint Museum in Charlotte, the Asheville Art Museum, the Memphis Brooks Museum, and the McKissck Museum in Columbia, SC. Auction records show a Pisgah Forest cameo vase bringing $9000 and a Nonconnah vase brought $8700.

Today Pisgah Forest Pottery site is owned by the step grandson of Stephen and remains unchanged since the 1920s. The workshop contains the 1917 clay filter press and the 1929 wood kiln and early containers of glaze materials from the 1920s. Some photos and information for this article obtained from Pisgah Forest Pottery and McKissick Museum exhibition notice. This post is part of Mud Colony what's happening in the studio. Thanks for reading and for all your comments.


  1. thanks for the history lesson!

  2. It sounds like you're missing your pottery business. I've never heard of Pisgah Forest pottery but if I ever run across it, I'll really appreciate it.

  3. Gorgeous pieces. Thank you. I loved yours too.

  4. Hi Michele, thanks, there is a lot of clay history in these hills, that's for sure.

    Hi Ms. Sparrow, thanks, you never know you might find a piece at a yard sale or something.

    Hi Elephant's Child, thanks, interesting to learn of other's experiences in clay without the modern tools of today.


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