Jugtown Pottery, near Seagrove and in the center of North Carolina, began in 1917 by Jacques and Juliana Busbee who were artists and art enthusiasts from Raleigh, NC. After discovering an orange pie dish made of clay at the Lexington County Fair, they soon traced the pie dishes' origin to Moore County and found other orange and earthenware style pottery and methods of salt glazed wares being made by the local potters. Salt glaze wares were produced by adding salt to the kiln near the end of the firing at or near the maturing temperature of the clay. At times pots were embellished with blue or simple incising and almost entirely utilitarian. During the ninteenth century, many potters from the Craven, Cole, Chriscoe, Luck, McNeill, Owen, Teague, Fox, Webster, Moody, Auman and many other families produced these types of wares for the market of food storage and daily neccessities. Some uses of pottery dated back to the needs during the confederacy for the hospitals. These families had brought the skills of pottery making with them from Europe and the Northeast of the US. With prohibition in 1907 and the beginning of industrial methods of vessels for containment, the potters began to find other means to support their families than pottery making alone. Here the Busbee's saw an opportunity to be directors in the survival of a then dwindling craft. As they began to find a way to market these pots, Juliana set up the Village store in 1918 at Greenwich Village NY. located at 37 E. 60th Street. The first orders for pots for the Village store were given to potters with their own wheels and kilns, Henry Chrisco, Rufus Owen, James Owen and J.W. Teague. These potters made the utilitarian pieces that had served their needs for generations. The Busbee's soon found that they wanted to go beyond the areas utilitarian shapes and glazes.
Among these first potters to work with the Busbees was J.H. Owen (James H. Owen). He was born in 1866, the son of Benjamin Franklin Owen, father to ML Owens, grandfather to Vernon Owens, great grandfather to Travis Owens, brother to Rufus Owen and uncle to Ben Owen Sr.. M.L. Owens (who added the s to his sur name) recalled in an interview that J.H. Owen learned to turn under Pascal Marble, whose shop was south of Seagrove. In 1910, J.H. set up his pottery on the site which is now the Owens Pottery, owned by grandson, Boyd Owens. By 1917 he was making pots for Jacques Busbee. He turned, decorated and fired these pots at his workshop, as the Jugtown shop was not yet built. Purchased by the Busbees, the pots were then sent up to the Village Store Tea Room. J.H. Owen also made pots for his own shop. Many examples of these early orange and salt glaze with cobalt pieces have been found in the northeastern states. Some pieces bear the J.H. Owen stamp, a few bear the Jugtown stamp and are clearly from the hand of J.H. Owen.
The majority are not stamped, but are attributed by example of his distinct folk style. At the time (1922 or early 1923) that the Jugtown stamp was made, J.H. Owen began stamping his personal wares with his own stamp. Quite possibly the Jugtown stamp and the J.H. Owen stamp were made at the same company together. The two stamps are similar in style. This would also explain why fewer stamped pieces by J.H. Owen have been found. J. H. Owen died in 1923.
Charlie Teague was the first potter to be hired by the Busbees to work at the newly built Jugtown Pottery in 1921. Charlie was born in 1901, the son of potter John Wesley Teague. He learned to turn in father's shop. . Charlie was a skilled hand at turning and because he, like J.H. Owen, predated the Jugtown stamp, many of his first unmarked pots were sold through the New York Tea Room. Charlie and his wife Annie lived with Jacques Busbee for several years, while Juliana ran the New York shop. Annie did the cooking and housework while Charlie made pots. Their son, Garrett, was born during this time and remembers Jacques Busbee fondly. Charlie worked at Jugtown Pottery until 1931 or 1932 according to the recollection of Annie Teague. He died of pneumonia in 1938 at the young age of 37. Knowledge of Charlie's and J.H’s pots remained unknown until the 1980’s. Teague’s style is becoming more recognized, being different than either that of Ben or J.H.’s.
Ben Owen was hired in 1923 as the second known potter to work at the newly built Jugtown Pottery. He was born in 1904, son of potter Rufus Owen. Ben learned to turn in his father's shop. He joined Charlie Teague at the pottery and they worked together for ten years. (Circa 1932), Ben became the sole potter at Jugtown. A willing and skilled young turner, Ben produced for over thirty six years, experimenting with many extraordinary forms under the guidance of the Busbees. He traveled with the Busbees to museums and socials researching differents styles of pottery from around the world and would return to the pottery with new inspirations. The asian and middle-eastern influences of pottery played a key role in the foundation of style that Jugtown became well known for.
To study more about the history of Jugtown Pottery, visit your local library or the NC Pottery Center and Museum in Seagrove, NC to read the following books:
- The Remarkable Potters of Seagrove by Dr. Charlotte Vestal Brown (Lark Books) available at the NC Pottery Center, Jugtown Pottery and Ben Owen Pottery.
- Jugtown Pottery, History and Design by Jean Crawford (out of print but found for sale used on Amazon)
For more information on Jugtown Pottery after 1959, go to Jugtown's website - www.jugtownware.com/history.htm. The tradition of Jugtown Pottery under the leadership of Master Potter Vernon Owens, wife Pamela, their son Travis, brother Bobby Owens is continuing.