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May 10th, 2012:

Juliana Busbee and Jugtown Pottery

Letter from Juliana Busbee to Harvey Littleton

Juliana Busbee letter to Harvey K. Littleton talking about his visit to Jugtown, 1957 May 27. Harvey K. Littleton papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Today in 1876, Juliana Royster was born in Raleigh, NC. She would go on to become Juliana Royster Busbee, co-operator with her husband, Jacques, of the famous Jugtown Pottery. While reading about Juliana, I came across an article written by her in one of our digitized state publications, ESC Quarterly. I’ve written about the Quarterly before, mentioning that it often featured North Carolina industries and small, local businesses.

This particular issue of the Quarterly (Spring-Summer 1947) was devoted to the pottery industry. I found her article on pages 60-62 interesting, because she talks familiarly about the place that jugs and potters have had throughout North Carolina history.

I never considered the impact that prohibition might have had on a potter, yet she mentions how “Prohibition forced him to discard the trade of his forbears, which was usually handed down in families like medieval crafts. Farming, sawmills, and factories absorbed the sons of men who had generations of potter blood in their veins.” (p. 60)

Busbee also talks about the genesis of Jugtown, which began when her husband was enchanted by … a pie plate. “We were like the owl and the pussy cat who went to sea in a beautiful pie plate instead of a pea green boat, and it landed us on shores just as amazing.” (p. 60) Her husband envisioned the impact of infusing the North Carolina pottery trade with some of the principles of fine art. They traveled around the eastern Piedmont, learning everything they could about the rich local pottery tradition. They then established Jugtown, bringing in local potters and marketing their wares to out-of-state markets. Popularity boomed, and led to a time when “potter shops sprang up like mushrooms” and dotted the highways, much like they do today. (p. 61)

You can read more about North Carolina’s pottery industry in the 1947 Spring-Summer issue of the ESC Quarterly, including an article on the history of “structural clay products” (think: bricks and tiles) on page 48, the increase of the pottery industry in the state on page 53, and the early household pottery of the Moravians on page 62.

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