There’s an old saying that you can’t swing a dead cat in Western North Carolina without hitting a potter (this unnecessarily nihilistic, overused image has also been applied to jewelry designers and massage therapists). And while the plentiful number of ceramic artists in the region should be a point of pride, not cynicism, it’s safe to place Henderson County’s Rodney Leftwich on a shelf by himself.
The WNC native has long shared a Horse Shoe studio with his wife Kim. He was handed his first piece of clay at age 5, and, as an adult, began his journey by taking classes at John C. Campbell Folk School and studying with experts of the Appalachian form, a genre marked by hand-dug clay and vernacular “face jugs.” But Leftwich has made his own mark: reticulated vases depicted with carved cutouts of southern-mountain life — farmers, laurel leaves, youth in old-fashioned clothes. Lanterns and vessels feature meticulously incised imagery that suggest future icons of archaeological digs.
Leftwich also makes folk-art-style sculpture, collaborating with Kim, a talented self-taught potter. Not content to simply create his own legacy, though, he is also a well-known collector and promoter of other artists’ work, most notably the pots of Wild West “potter/pioneer” Walter B. Stephen, born in 1876.
The Leftwiches typically open their studio for spring and fall events, and this year, they plan to go a step further with a two-weekend Southern Pottery & Antiques Sale featuring rare folk art and fine-art pottery with a micro-regional focus (from Stephen’s Pisgah Forest and Nonconnah potteries, Catawba Valley, the foothills regions, etc.), plus random antiques.
“I have spent over 40 years collecting and researching historic Western North Carolina folk and art pottery,” Leftwich remarked recently to Bold Life. “Several months ago, I came across my sketchbooks from 30 to 40 years ago. They contained my most creative ideas for pottery and sculptures. While really unique, they were never done. Instead, being a single father, I focused on smaller, more marketable pieces to survive as a potter.
“After many years of research, talks, exhibits, publications, and other promotions of historic pottery, I find it is time now to focus on my own best work. For two weekends in October, we will be offering our collection of local historic pottery. Hopefully others will appreciate these ceramic treasures of our mountains as I have.”
October 15 and 16, 22 and 23, 11am-6pm. 166 Bane Road in Mills River. Call 828-890-3053 or see pisgahforestpottery.com for more information.