RALEIGH — Artists are turning more than pots in the Moore-Randolph County area -- they are turning heads. The area was home to a handful of potters in the '70s, and now more than 120 practice their craft there.
Potters are attracted by the native clay and the area's rich tradition: people have been making jugs, jars, pots and plates there since well before the Civil War.
It is a place of muddy hands, of wiggly shapes on a wheel, of spinning and sparks of creativity.
Al McCanless calls it the good life. What does he do? "Just taking this common stuff out of the ground -- clay -- and shaping it into something that is beautiful."
McCanless makes pottery on a farm in Randolph County.
"There are so many steps to it. I guess it's combining all these little steps, and when you open that kiln up, it's like Christmas," he says.
And like Christmas, this too is a family affair. At Dover Pottery, Al and son Eck turn the pots, while son Will does the painting.
"Well, there is no commute. It's peaceful, quiet. I set my own hours. I'm able to do a lot of things I wouldn't be able to do if I were tied down to a regular job," says Will McCanless.
The McCanless family shares a love of music that seeps into their pottery. "I think the discipline of music, the discipline of a craft, it's the same type of thing," Al McCanless says. "I use things I've learned in music all the time in pottery."
People from all over the globe come to purchase this pottery, but the biggest customers are North Carolinians.
"Each piece of pottery is almost like a person," shopper Pat Griffin says. "Each piece has its own personality."
Highway 705 is "Pottery Parkway," where visitors see a sea of signs pointing to places with whimsical names like Pot Luck, Pebbles, Frog Pond and Fat Beagle Pottery, Turn & Burn, and Clays and Glaze.
Don't be fooled by the light touch, these potters take their work, and each other, very seriously.
"Anybody can learn to make pots. There are just some that get a whole lot better at it than other people," potter Vernon Owens says.
And Owens should know. The owner of Jugtown Pottery is considered one of the best potters in the world.
Owens learned from his father, who learned from his father. "I've done this ever since I can remember," he says.
And now Owens' son, Travis, makes pots, too. His wife Pam is also quite the artist.
"I love the lifestyle of being a potter," Pam Owens says.
The laid back, cooperative atmosphere has remained; in spite of the rapid growth of the industry here, there is no cut-throat competition.
"You can make a decent living doing this, but you'll never get super rich at it," Will McCanless says. "The rewards aren't necessarily money. They're freedom. That's worth more I would say."
As one potter put it, he is living every kid's dream: to play in the mud and get paid for it.
The heaviest concentration of potters can be found along Highway 705 between the towns of Robbins and Seagrove in Randolph County.
There is also a growing group of potters in the Pittsboro area.