I

t’s not certain if Dillsboro is merely temporarily passing the baton to Sylva when it comes to the Western North Carolina Pottery Festival or if the event will become a mainstay here.

Regardless, we welcome the event as it arrives this weekend for the first time in Sylva after 14 years in Dillsboro.

N.C. Department of Transportation construction plans involving a bridge replacement on U.S. 23 Business sidelined parking at Monteith Park and a private lot in Dillsboro, prompting the move down the road to Sylva.

For its part Sylva is welcoming the 15th rendition of the festival with open arms, as it should. It’s an established, venerable event and another important link in the economic chain of observances and festivals that keeps local businesses humming.

When most of us think of a pottery festival we’re transported back to school days when those of us fortunate to be exposed to this craft recall our own clumsy attempts at turning a bowl.

This event is about as far removed from those memories as is possible. This is the big leagues, a field of All-American crafters at the top of their game. It’s an event that draws artisans from around the country and devotees of the craft who build their entire year around this singular event.

Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Director Julie Donaldson said, “This is a quality event with very talented potters,” and that patrons of the event enjoy “getting out and seeing the area while they are in town. Stores and restaurants will most likely see a nice increase in business during this festival.”

The weekend kicks off with the Clay Olympics, beginning at 1 p.m. Friday. The Olympics is a friendly competition on the day before the festival featuring potters competing on four wheels in events that include a blindfold challenge.

On Saturday the Festival runs from 10 a.m.–5 p.m. at Bridge Park, featuring dozens of potters and thousands of visitors from around the nation.

In addition to artisans traveling here from all points on the compass, student groups from Western Carolina University and Southwestern Community College will show their pottery.

A free shuttle will run from the Jackson County Justice Center to Bridge Park all day. Parking will also be available at Mark Watson Park, around Sylva and at area churches.

In addition to being a much-anticipated event for participants and pottery fans, the Festival provides a strong local economic boost.

“The WNC Pottery Festival has a significant impact on our local economy from lodging and dining to entertainment and activities,” said Nick Breedlove, director of the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority. “I’ve been told that the impact to our economy is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It fills up our hotels.”

It’s not just tourists who can support the event; it’s folks here in the county looking for that special Christmas present or mantel showpiece, or simply for those who appreciate fine artisanship.

For a profile on this year’s featured artist, a complete list of exhibitors and more, go to wncpotteryfestival.com.

As we said in opening, this is the first year for the event in Sylva. Let’s make sure it’s one that sees everyone depart with fond memories.