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Local potters featured at Mid-Year Pottery Market

Kathy Richards works on a vase in her Lincolnton studio.

MICHELLE T. BERNARD
Staff Writer

Lincoln County is home to numerous talented potters and many of them will be displaying their wares at the Mid-Year Pottery Market on Friday and Saturday at the Lincoln Cultural Center. Longtime potter and folk artist Kathy Richards of Lincolnton will be one of the more than 15 potters attending.

A slight woman in her 70s, Richards is the true embodiment of a folk artist. While she comes from a family of potters, her grandfather, David Kennedy, and his brother, Bulo Kennedy, made their living doing pottery. Her father did pottery as well and she grew up listening to stories of making stoneware that her family delivered all over western North Carolina in covered wagons.

“They’d go out for days at a time and deliver pottery,” she said.

Her artistic endeavors started with drawing and then turned to ceramics. She soon discovered that ceramics were a lot of work without a lot of return.

“I’d sit and paint on something four or five hours after I made it,” she said. “To me it couldn’t have been painted any better. Then I couldn’t sell it for more than two or three dollars.”

Even though Richards wasn’t making pottery while she was going up, her father instilled a love and respect for pottery. She collected it into adulthood and then decided she was going to make some.

“I bought me a wheel and some clay and I sat out there and made mess after mess after mess,” she said. “I’d work all day and then come home and go out there and work until about 11 p.m. I’d come in and my husband would ask what I made and I told him I made a mess.”

It took Richards about a year to make something that she could call a bowl.

“After I made a bowl I thought, ‘I’m a potter now.’” she said.

Richards took one class at Gaston College but she said that she didn’t learn anything.

“The teacher made one little jug and that was all but I learned a little bit by playing by myself,” she said. “I’d see these others working on their wheel and they knew less than I did. I’d watch them and learn from their mistakes what I needed to do better.”

Richards said that she never had the strength to do the big five-gallon jugs, nor did she have the equipment that she needed to do them such as a pug mill, which is necessary to make the right clay to form the larger vessels.

When she first started doing pottery in the 1980s, Richards was working at Hutchens Hosiery. The owner of the mill appreciated pottery and kept encouraging Richards to make it. When she had pieces to sell, the owner allowed Richards to set up a table to sell her work. The mill owner would pick out what she wanted and then pay Richards double her asking prices.

“I told her that just because she owned the mill she didn’t have to pay double,” Richards said. “She told me that it was worth it and that I was doing good. When I worked at Hutchens I would sell everything that I made.”

After about a year of making pottery, Richards entered an art show in Maiden and won a blue ribbon, which she said went to her head. That’s when she started entering more shows and got more buyers for her work.

Richards is known for her vinegar hags, which are cruets to hold vinegar (although most people just use them for decoration). She models her hags after her impression of an old southern woman.

“She’s hard to make but everybody wants a vinegar hag,” she said. “She’s an old woman from the south. Probably not an old woman – 35 years old or so, but they worked in the south out in the sun. She has wrinkled skin, with one tooth left and her hair balled up on the back of her head. A typical old southern woman back before 1950. She’s everybody’s grandma except for maybe a few of the wealthier ones.”

Most of her work symbolizes rural life in the South, which is what Richards knows. She grew up on a farm in Catawba County, moving to Lincoln County 45 years ago. In addition to her pottery, Richards created a series of rooster paintings that are also very popular.

“In 2010 it was too hot to be doing pottery and I got to be doing something,” she said. “I went to the store and bought me some watercolors, paper and all this stuff. I don’t know anything about painting. I’m not an artist but I taught myself how to use the watercolors. I started out painting roosters and I painted 100 of them. I figured if I paint 100 I’m going to know what I’m doing.”

She sold quite a few of those 100 paintings but she sill has some of them. People also send her pictures of their roosters for her to paint. She’s also painted some kiln opening scenes – one of her paintings is of a Burlon Craig kiln opening, which she’s repainted by special request on numerous occasions.

“I plan to keeping doing my art,” Richards said. “As long as you keep moving you will move. You’ve got to have a reason to get up. I’ve got more plans than I’ve got years to do them in.”

The sale will run Friday from 5-9 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m.–3 p.m. at the Lincoln Cultural Center, located at 403 East Main Street in Lincolnton. There is no charge for admission.

Image courtesy of Michelle T. Bernard

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