High on a Little Mountain

Tyson Graham likes a soundtrack with his visual art. Photo by Karin Strickland

This year will be Tyson Graham’s fourteenth attending the Little Mountain Festival, though it’ll only be his fourth as the owner of Tyson Graham Pottery. Before that, he attended the long-running annual event, held at Claude and Elaine Graves’ Little Mountain studio, with his guitar, banjo, upright bass, or fiddle.

In fact, it was after the festival one year that Claude floated a radical idea while discussing retirement. As Graham says, “We were sitting on their porch, and they asked, ‘Have you ever thought about pottery?’ I said, ‘Actually, no.’ But the idea appealed to me.” At the time, Graham had never thrown a pot, though he was an artist, designer, and multi-instrumentalist.

In the four years since that night, Graham took courses, apprenticed at Little Mountain, and moved his family to Tryon. Now he’s established his own distinct style, in the tradition of redware ceramics, and business is growing, with orders coming in for whole sets and customers buying their holiday gifts in his studio. He gives these functional pieces a decorative flair, with hand-painted images inspired by nature and traditional mountain music.

Tyson and his wife Darby will host the 43rd Little Mountain Festival this month, coinciding with the multi-venue regional celebration of national American Craft Week. At precisely 11 am on October 13, Graham will open the kiln Claude built and unload his own pottery. Folks will gather at the back of the studio to see the pieces for the first time, and Graham will talk about his process as he passes each around.

Outdoors, Richard Beard, a renowned luthier and host of WNCW’s “Celtic Winds,” will have his handmade instruments — including guitars, mandolins, and dulcimers — on display. And painter Hannah Seng will be selling her nature-themed paintings and prints, also inspired by the region’s music.

The multimedia day will be filled with musicians — Claude and Elaine among them. “We have so many performances, “ Graham says, “that it becomes an open jam session. Usually there are five or six people playing at a time.” He anticipates around 20 musicians, mostly playing old-time string-band songs, with some Celtic and bluegrass thrown in. Attendees can bring picnics and sit on the lawn of the 100-year-old building to listen, enjoy the day, and perhaps even pick up a banjo and join in.

Graham’s vision for Little Mountain Pottery “is to provide for other people what I experienced when I’d come up here,” he says. “It’s like stepping back in time.” He thinks it’s crucial to see artists creating things — and it never hurts to have a soundtrack. “Whether it’s artwork or crafts or musical instruments or music, that’s my main goal — to carry on this tradition.”

In the suitably rustic Little Mountain studio, the artist puts a signature touch on his ceramics with vernacular details. Photos by Karin Strickland

Tyson Graham Pottery, 6148 Peniel Road, Tryon. The Little Mountain Festival happens Saturday, Oct. 13, 10am-4pm, in conjunction with American Craft Week. For more information, call 828-817-5741 or visit tysongrahampottery.com or americancraftweek/wnc.

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