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NC Pottery Center presents Neolia, Keeper of the Cole Tradition

Posted on 05/06/14

Seagrove, NC - Neolia, Keeper of the Cole Pottery Tradition: A Retrospective and Ring Jugs and Rundlets will be the next temporary exhibitions at the North Carolina Pottery Center in Seagrove, North Carolina. These exhibitions, which will run from May 10 through July 26, open with a reception on Saturday, May 10, 2014 from noon-2:00 p.m. The opening reception is open to the public and free of charge.

The Neolia exhibition will explore the extraordinary range of forms and richly colored glazes produced by the Sanford Coles over the last 80 years. The focus will be on Neolia Cole Womack, who was only seven when her father, Arthur Ray Cole, moved to Sanford in 1934 to take advantage of the customers travelling on Route 1, then the main north-south road through the state.

Like so many Coles, Neolia was born into the clay. “Daddy had a pottery shop,” she recalls, “and I just grew up in it. When I was a kid and everything, I stayed in the shop more than I did in the house, because I enjoyed that better than I did housework. I hate housework!” She was selling her pottery by the time she was 11 or 12, and then went to work fulltime right after she graduated from high school in 1944. She worked alongside her father and her brother Foister, and after her father’s death in 1974 ran the shop with her sister Celia and grandson Kenneth George.

Neolia has faithfully followed the advice on pricing she received from her father. “Daddy always used to say, you make a piece of pottery and you put a high price on it, it’s sitting there six months later. If you put it down at a lower price, you can sell seven of them. It’d  be a whole let better to have that quick, fast nickel coming in than it would that slow dime.” Moreover, Neolia has no interest in making art pottery.  “I’d rather make things that people can put out and use and cook with and bake with. And use for flower vases.”

Sadly, the years have caught up with Neolia, and the old shop is now closed. But Neolia deserves recognition for an extraordinary career and for maintaining the Cole pottery tradition in often difficult times. In fact she has already won the prestigious North Carolina Heritage Award, which recognizes the great traditional artists of our state. Now she can take her place in history alongside the other great women potters of her family, Nell Cole Graves and Dorothy Cole Auman.

This exhibition will feature work by Neolia, but to illustrate the continuity of the Cole tradition, it will include pottery made by her father, her sister Celia, her brothers Foister, Truman, and Winfred, her grandson Kenneth, her niece Sandy Cole, and her great-nephew David Cole. Today the North Cole Pottery, run by Sandy and her husband Kevin Brown, maintains the Sanford Cole legacy.

The Ring Jugs and Rundlets exhibition showcases two curious forms which are interesting departures from the more commonplace forms in a pottery tradition dominated by jugs, jars, and pitchers. Early North Carolina pottery was produced for function to suit the needs of rural life. Jugs were necessary to store milk, syrup, whiskey, and other liquids. Storage jars were needed to keep salted meats or pickled vegetables. Churns were important for butter-making. Pitchers, bowls, and plates were important household items. In addition to these most abundant forms, potters less frequently produced vessels for more specific needs or to express a sense of play. Among these pottery items, ring jugs and rundlets are oddities and are now treasured by collectors for their uniqueness.

Exhibitions are made possible through the generosity of our membership, the Mary and Elliott Wood Foundation, the John W. and Anna H. Hanes Foundation, and the Goodnight Educational Foundation. This project was supported by the N.C. Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources, with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Thank you!

The mission of the North Carolina Pottery Center is to promote public awareness of and appreciation for the history, heritage, and ongoing tradition of pottery making in North Carolina.

The Center is located at 233 East Avenue in Seagrove, NC. Hours of operation are Tue - Sat 10 am - 4 pm. For more information, please call 336.873.8430, visit ncpotterycenter.org, or find us on Facebook.

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