Thousands of visitors are expected on Dillsboro’s Front Street this Saturday (Nov. 2) for the ninth annual Western North Carolina Pottery Festival.
“The festival has more potters from more places than any show in the Southeast,” said co-organizer Joe Frank McKee of Tree House Pottery.
The event runs from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., rain or shine.
Some 42 master potters will show their work (available for purchase) and educational demonstrations will line the street. This year’s featured potter is internationally known Gay Smith of Bakersville, who specializes in single-firing porcelain ware in a soda kiln.
The festival, which has now developed a nationwide reputation, began almost a decade ago when McKee said “let’s do a pottery festival.”
McKee said the town allowed him to stage the event, which had 21 potters that first year. Attendance has grown each year since, said co-organizer Travis Berning, also of Tree House. The event is now Dillsboro’s largest annual draw, he said.
“Now people ask us when we’re doing it,” he said.
“It’s the biggest event west of Asheville in terms of economic impact,” McKee said, estimating it brings over a half million dollars to the region because people travel from all over and stay and eat.
“Every hotel in the area is booked and restaurants are full,” he said. “We’ve had people from New Jersey, Mississippi, Houston, Chicago – people fly in, drive and take buses just to see the pottery.”
It adds a “fifth weekend” to October, someone told the event’s third co-organizer, Riverwood Pottery’s Brant Barnes. The comment is a reference to the fact that October is Western North Carolina’s peak tourist season as people flock to the area to view autumn foliage.
Every genre of pottery will be represented at Saturday’s festival, with different firing techniques and everything from low-fire (1,800 degrees) to high-fire (2,350 degrees) pottery with different types of glazes.
The event will also showcase raku-firing, throwing, wood-firing and horsehair firing.
“It will be a collection of some of the finest clay artists in the country who make a living doing their artwork,” Travis Berning said.
The artists chosen for the juried festival come from 16 different states. Alysha Baier, 26, of New York is one of the youngest artists who will be in the show.
“The show’s goal from the beginning was to bring artists and customers together to educate the public on different techniques of clay,” Berning said.
The festival has an educational component as well in that it gives students from Southwestern Community College and Western Carolina University booth space and an opportunity to see master potters’ work, Barnes said.
This year, 15 of the artists are new. Only the best artists are accepted to show their craft at the annual event. When reviewing applications, festival organizers don’t know the name of the artists and use a blind jury method and photographs to judge the quality of their work and originality.
Barnes said he’s thrilled about the talent that will be on display in Dillsboro this Saturday.
“I just can’t wait,” he said.
Barnes said he’s excited both about the event and about seeing featured potter Smith’s work and demonstrations.
A cum laude graduate of Harvard who specializes in single-firing porcelain ware in a soda kiln, Smith has taught ceramics at her alma mater, as well as at Penland School of Crafts and Scotland’s Findhorn Foundation. Her work is exhibited in notable galleries such as the Mint Museum, Charlotte; Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans; and the Yingge Ceramics Museum, Taiwan.
Parking for Saturday’s festival will be available for free at Dillsboro’s Monteith Park, and shuttles will run from there to Front Street.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is also making a run for the festival, departing from Bryson City with a layover in Dillsboro. The event does not include food vendors to encourage attendees to patronize Dillsboro restaurants.
The festival includes a silent auction from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. that will benefit Sylva’s Community Table, a food pantry and soup kitchen. The event typically raises some $2,000 for the Table as artists in the show donate their work to be auctioned off.
Children will enjoy the festival because of its wheel demonstrations, McKee said.
“Kids light up – their response says it all,” he said.
“To see an 8-year old say ‘Mom, I want to try this,’ means everything,” McKee said.
The Clay Olympics will be held Friday, Nov. 1, at 1 p.m. In this event participating artists compete in a timed competition. There will be a few categories – 5 pounds of clay, 5 minutes, tallest cylinder; 5 pounds of clay, 5 minutes, largest bowl; and 2 pounds of clay, 2 minutes, blindfolded throwing contest.
“People love it,” McKee said, adding that the Clay Olympics is free and open to the public.
“I’m really grateful for the success of the show and the support of the community,” Berning said. “There’s a great amount of energy and adrenaline,” leading up to the show.
Barnes said he still has some “wet” pots he needs to finish and get ready to display.
The event has something for everyone, McKee said, adding that people who haven’t attended a festival yet should check out the booths this Saturday.
Admission is $3, which enters festival-goers into a daylong raffle – every hour ticket-holders have an opportunity to win a piece of pottery with their entrance ticket. Children under 12 are admitted free.
A list of featured festival artists along with more information about the event is available online at www.wncpotteryfestival.com.