James Clements is a down to earth, Union County native. A lifelong poultry worker with a degree in poultry science, he’s also picked up other skills along the way. One of those skills happens to be pottery. James likes to point out that he’s not a professional potter, pottery is just something he enjoys. But customers that have seen his work on display at Created In The Carolinas artist cooperative might say that’s a modest statement.
In 1997 James was taking a break from poultry, working in the landscaping business. He needed to find something else to do in wet weather. So, on a whim, he decided to go to Montgomery Community College. His sister lived in Anson County and was collecting pottery from a lady there. This woman was taking pottery classes at Montgomery Community College, and she invited James to come. Just for fun, he decided to go. He ended up attending college for three semesters, where he was taught by potters from Seagrove, NC.
Seagrove is a small town located near Asheboro. It is the “Pottery Capital of America.” About 100 professional potters live in a 20-mile radius around Seagrove. Seagrove Pottery was originally established in 1781. But by the early 1900s the shop was on its way out of business. Functional pottery was no longer the kitchenware of choice.
All that changed in 1917 when a man from New York spied Seagrove’s pottery while traveling through the area. He was amazed by this rural North Carolina craft. Viewing it for its artistic value more than its function, he took pieces back to New York and began selling them. This completely revived the profession. Seagrove Pottery not only survived, but it became world-renowned.
The teachers from Seagrove were James’s biggest influence, as they practiced their craft during the day and drove to the college to teach classes at night. James also joined the Carolina Clay Matters Guild, where he benefitted from workshops and collaboration with other artists. James continues refining his craft. He said, “I hope someday, maybe in 15 years, to be better and retire into this.”
James officially started his side business in 2000. He opened a shop in Monroe for almost a year and a half, where he primarily gave lessons. He also sold some of his pieces, but according to James, he’s a “terrible salesperson.” He also started selling at festivals, and for the past several years he’s had a booth at the Union County Farmer’s Market in Monroe. The most convenient place to find James’s work is the Created in the Carolinas Gift Shop in Waxhaw, which is open most days of the week.
James said, “It’s a never-ending process of figuring out what to do to market yourself.” He explained, “There’s a lot of trial and error figuring out what events are a good fit.” James is currently trying to narrow down his festivals to just twelve a year.
James makes a wide variety of pottery that is both beautiful and functional. Most of his pieces are made for the kitchen. All sizes of bowls, utensil holders, apple bakers, soup and coffee mugs, spoon rests, plates and specialized items, such as chip and dip platters are in his repertoire. He also makes pottery for outside the kitchen, such as earring bowls, flowerpots and vases. James takes custom orders, as long as the customer understands that the nature of pottery is that each piece is unique and the end product can be slightly unpredictable.
“My pottery is simple, just like me,” James says. But that simple pottery is also helping the community. On January 29th, James participated in Soup on Sunday, a hospice fundraiser. His bowls were donated to help raise money, as soup-eaters at the event can upgrade their tickets to include a hand-thrown bowl.
James is always glad to have the opportunity to make more pottery. Potential customers can reach him at 704-291-0900. Many of his bowls and plates can also be found for purchase at the Created In The Carolinas Gift Shop.