Curves and Rims
30 Sep 2019
The living clay and tradition of potter Anne Raven Jorgensen
By Ray Owen » Photos by Diana Matthews
In some respects, Anne Raven Jorgensen’s slight Swedish accent hides her embodiment of Americana – apprenticing at Ben Owen Pottery and Turn & Burn Pottery in Seagrove during the 1980s and now a working potter at the circa 1890 Edgerton Livery in downtown Southern Pines that she and husband Don restored.
“I think in English most of the time,” she says with a smile. “But I still count in Swedish and often times my notes are in Swedish.” Through a decades-long involvement with North Carolina pottery, Anne is tied to the ongoing tradition – where abundant talent and a willingness to innovate have sustained the craft for more than 200 years.
“Clay is sexy, there’s no other word for it,” she remarks when considering her trade. “I like trying new clays, feeling it in my hands and making it do what I want. My work is very much about curves and rims, they’re very important to me. Sometimes I play with rims to see all variations. It’s exciting when I come up with something new that compliments a particular shape.”
Growing up in Sweden, Anne fell in love with clay on a family visit to a local potter. At age 12, she took her bicycle apart in an attempt to make a pedal-powered pottery wheel. Eventually, she saved enough money to buy a used wheel and began learning to make pots.
She married, immigrated to the United States, and started taking classes at Montgomery Community College (MCC) in Troy, NC. As a student, Anne began working at Ben Owen Pottery under the guidance of Wade Owen, son of master potter Ben Owen and father of Ben Owen III.
“When I was learning, Wade never showed me how to make anything. He’d just bring me a pot and ask me to turn one like it. He was the bridge between generations, so generous with everyone.”
“I had just started working there when Don, who was stationed at Ft. Bragg, got sent to Korea. I couldn’t go along with our young children. So, we moved to Robbins and they basically adopted
us – Wade, his mother Lucille and all the Owens. They cared for my kids while I worked and kept us fed.”
Anne was among the first wave of artists arriving in Seagrove just after a critical period when traditional pottery had fallen on hard times due to concerns about lead poisoning from the older glazes. Shops had been shuttered and just a handful of the early potteries remained, including Ben Owen, Jugtown, Auman Pottery, Lucks, and JB Cole. Real talk was going around about the demise of age-old ways.
One of the biggest impacts was the tragic loss of folk potters Dorothy and Walter Auman. They died in 1991 in a freak highway accident, when an unsecured load of lumber fell from a passing tractor-trailer and crushed their vehicle. “I was driving a couple of cars behind them,” says Anne. “I didn’t find out we had lost them until the next day.”
“Dorothy Auman was incredibly encouraging to women potters. In those days, we still weren’t considered equal with the men. Dorothy blazed a trail for everyone who followed in her footsteps and shared knowledge freely.”
“She would ask me, ‘What kind of pots can you bring to this area that are different, that are you?’ I said very little. She was a force of nature and it was almost intimidating. Coming from Sweden to the South was a bit of a culture shock.”
“We tried visiting Southern Pines in the late 1980s,” remembers Anne with a laugh. “It took three or four times to find the place. We drove around in circles, ending up in Aberdeen every time before finally making our way onto Broad Street. It was a community like the ones I knew from Europe where people gathered in the center of town. Once we discovered it, I wish we’d found it sooner.”
In 2014, the Jorgensens purchased the old Edgerton Livery, restoring its facade to the 1890s configuration. One of the first liveries serving Southern Pines, the structure is among the only downtown livery buildings remaining, an important remnant of the early village.
“After purchasing the property, we found a photograph from the late 1800s stuffed in a book,” recalls Anne as she describes the restoration. “Don had been searching historic records for pictures of the old building to guide us. While we changed the entrance slightly, overall it matches the early design.”
Elements of the livery’s ancient foundation, baseboards and beams remain intact, along with evidence of a fire that once ravaged the back of the structure. “Since we opened the gallery, folks occasionally visit who have a connection to the property,” says Anne. “The building was converted to apartments during World War II, and a lady came in one day whose uncle and aunt lived here in the 1940s.”
“Tastes have changed since we opened,” Anne reflects as she surveys the gallery. “I used to have collectors and sell lots of vases. Now, I don’t handle many vases and folks want my guinea fowl sculptures. Mugs, bowls, flying candleholders, and unique gift items are very popular.”
“A favorite glaze I’ve used for over 25 years is my ‘go to’ surface, but it’s never the same, firing to firing. You’d think it would be consistent but it’s not. After all this time, Seagrove is still the water source for this glaze, because if I use Southern Pines water you can tell a difference in the color.”
Anne’s work is collected throughout the world and part of the permanent collection of the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC. She is also an adjunct instructor at MCC, helping train the next generation of potters. Anne says as a teacher: “I am always learning new ways of doing things and sharing that knowledge with my students. It’s a wonderful experience that enriches my life and art.”
Visit Raven Pottery & Craft Gallery: ravenpottery.com, 260 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Southern Pines, NC 28387,