PITTSBORO -- The crowd began gathering at 7 a.m., two hours early, at Mark and Carol Hewitt's more than 100-year-old homestead.Many were loyal fans, eager to walk down to the old barn and see some of Mark Hewitt's nearly 2,000 pots on display, almost all fired in the newer of two wood-fired kilns two weeks earlier. Hewitt, a native Englishman, has grown renowned over the past 25 years. Born in Stoke-On-Trent, England, in 1955, he is the son and grandson of directors for Spode, the fine china manufacturer. While attending college at Bristol University in the early 1970s, Hewitt read a book by Bernard Leach, "A Potter's Book," and decided to follow his own path as a studio potter.He apprenticed for well-known potter Michael Cardew in Cornwall, England, then moved to America to continue his study under the tutelage of potter Todd Piker in Connecticut. There he met his wife Carol, who today is his full-time business manager. Hewitt chose clay-rich North Carolina to set up his own studio and was fortunate to find an old farm just east of Pittsboro with outbuildings and space for his kilns.Not only have Hewitt's followers grown over the years, so have his pots.On display this particular Saturday were several huge ash-glazed pots -- some call them "monster pots" -- in colors from rich honey and deep caramel brown to russet pink, dark alkaline green and soft blue. The two tallest weighed at least 250 pounds each, and seemed all almost as tall as their 6-foot 2-inch maker. (Hewitt is slender and weighs significantly less!)"Big pots have an architectural presence that has always intrigued me," Hewitt said. "Their round shapes humanize straight lines, corners and flat walls.""I've seen big pots all over the world, in Africa, Asia and Europe," he added. "Big pots have a big presence."With the help of several apprentices and community volunteers, Hewitt built his large, second wood kiln a year and a half ago to fire the extra large pots using ash glazes. The new kiln has allowed him to expand his palette of colors. Pink-red pots resemble 16th century Japanese Shino potsy. Blue pots evoke Chinese pots from the 12th century Sung dynasty called "Chun" blue.The ash glazes are "quite capricious and very fluid," Hewitt said. "They have a lovely streaking quality and then tend to run off the pot." (Hewitt's old kiln was designed to fire mostly mottled gray and brown pots primarily using salt glazes, mostly indigenous to eastern North Carolina potters. He nonetheless used it for several years to fire large pots using both salt and ash glazes.)Hewitt said that using two different kilns is like being a musician playing two different instruments. "I feel like a violinist who's been suddenly asked to play a cello," he said.Most notable at the kiln opening was a huge honey-colored obelisk pot, about 5 feet high, that resembled a bee hive. On sale for $9,500, it sold quickly to a long-time pottery collector from Virginia who has several of Hewitt's large pots.People attending a kiln opening come early because they've often attended a pre-sale viewing and have their eyes -- and their pocketbooks -- committed to particular pots. The truth is that even those who come late on opening day or on the following day, Sunday, still have a large array of wonderful, highly functional pots to choose from.
As to what influences and traditions have most inspired his pottery, Hewitt said he has enjoyed "splicing bits from one culture together with bits from others."Just like a genetic engineer, I enjoy trying to create a new hybrid out of old traditions, one that is new, robust and healthy," he said. "But North Carolina is home and its traditions are my predominant influence."Hewitt has studied pottery traditions in West Africa, Japan, and Korea but says North Carolina potters' tradition of creating functional ceramic pottery remains his greatest inspiration.Joseph Sand, 26, has worked with Hewitt for two years and had many of his own pots on sale at the kiln opening. Sand hopes to open his own kiln in North Carolina one day. He said he prefers creating small and medium size pots, not the "monster pots" he has helped Hewitt with in recent months. Sand grew up in Minnesota near Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic, and majored in ceramics at the University of Minnesota. He studied studio pottery in Tuscany, Italy, near Cortona for a year and also spent a year perfecting his craftsmanship in a small town, Telford, in the Midlands near Shrewsbury, England.Hewitt's newest apprentice, 24-year-old Alex Matisse, is the great grandson of Henry Matisse and the son of two accomplished artists who live in Massachusetts. His father, Paul Matisse, creates large metallic sculptural installations. His mother, Linda Hoffman, creates art from "found objects" and also writes a literary journal.Matisse said he first began working with clay as a seventh grader, making clay faces and masks. He attended Guilford College for a year and a half and studied with studio potter Charlie Teftt. Like Sand, Matisse thinks North Carolina is a great place to work as a potter. "The clientele here has a real craving for good pottery," he said.In the coming weeks Hewitt will be making pots to fill his salt-glaze kiln for his holiday firing and kiln opening, which will be held Dec. 6- 7 and 13-14, in conjunction with the annual Chatham County Studio Tour. Hewitt Pottery is open by appointment between kiln openings and always has an assortment of pots available -- whether mugs, drinking glasses, vases, pitchers, bowls, plates, pie pans, butter dishes, cookie jars or "monster pots." Call 542-2371 or e-mail www.hewittpottery.com for hours and directions.