In 1937, four pieces of pottery by Jugtown potter Benjamin Wade Owen were given to the recently founded Mint Museum of Art. It was an auspicious beginning for the museum’s pottery collection, which has grown to number over 2,100 examples, the most comprehensive collection in the country.
The collection developed because of the passion, connoisseurship, and generosity of key collectors of North Carolina pottery. Some collectors encyclopedically acquired examples of pottery from all of the state’s key pottery regions. Other collectors specialized, focusing on a specific potter or a particular type of ware. All of these collectors contributed enormously to the depth and breadth of today’s North Carolina pottery collection at the Mint.
An early leading collector of North Carolina pottery, Daisy Wade Bridges has donated much from her own collection to The Mint Museum over the years, as well as generously supported the museum’s acquisitions of other collections. In 1981 she funded the acquisition of 45 works by Buncombe County potter Oscar Bachelder (1852-1935) from collector Pat H. Johnston. Bachelder is an important figure in early twentieth-century American art pottery, and the Mint is proud to now have one of the largest collections of his wares in the country.
In 1983, Bridges and the Mint Museum Auxiliary helped acquire more than 1,100 works from the collection of Walter Auman (1926-1991) and Dorothy Cole Auman (1925-1991). Through Dorothy Auman’s research, archaeological excavations, and accumulation of pottery, her collection, and thus now the Mint’s, represents a compelling narrative of North Carolina potting traditions in form, adornment, and glaze.
Dorothy, an eighth-generation potter, and Walter, also a potter with roots in the Seagrove tradition, began their collection with a great interest in preserving the rich history of North Carolina ceramics. The collection is particularly strong in wares from the nineteenth century and first half of the twentieth. Represented regions include the Eastern Piedmont, the Catawba Valley, and the Mountains.
Over the years, many other collectors have helped ensure that the museum’s holdings in North Carolina pottery continue to grow in size and range. The Delhom Service League, a Mint affiliate group, has been particularly helpful. Since 2005 it has organized the annual Potters Market Invitational to heighten public awareness of the state’s most important craft, as well as raise funds to help support acquisitions for the collection. The Mint Museum is very grateful to them and all the pottery enthusiasts and collectors, past and present, who have contributed so much to making the museum’s North Carolina pottery collection what it is today. These pieces will live on to tell the stories of our people and our potters for years to come.