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Erwin National Blue Ridge Pottery Club celebrates 100th anniversary of Southern Potteries

John Abe Teague, district director for Congressman Phil Roe, reads a proclamation alongside Lisa Bailey, Erwin National Blue Ridge Club Pottery president during the club’s centennial celebration last week.(Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

Kendal Groner

The Erwin National Blue Ridge Pottery Club held a Centennial Celebration at the Bramble on Wednesday, Oct. 4. Just over 100 years ago, the first Blue Ridge Pottery was made by the Southern Potteries Plant in Erwin.

The Southern Potteries Plant opened in 1917, and after a few expansions the plant began using the famous Blue Ridge Pottery stamp on its hand painted dishware in the 1930s. Southern Potteries continued to employ local women until it ceased operations in 1957 as the popularity of plastic dishware rose.

“We are so ready for this milestone, because it meant so much to the town of Erwin, and to us who are collecting the pottery so we can carry on the legacy of what it has meant for our town,” said Lisa Bailey, Blue Ridge Pottery Club President.

As Blue Ridge Pottery Club members reminisced with one another over cake and punch, John Abe Teague, Congressman Phil Roe’s district director, read a Senate Resolution that State Senator Rusty Crowe drafted for the occasion. The resolution detailed the historical significance of Blue Ridge Pottery to the town of Erwin.

“It is wholly fitting that we recognise the company’s rich contribution to Tennessee arts and crafts tradition, and commend the countless collectors whose admiration for the distinctive beauty of Blue Ridge Dishware ensures its preservation for future generations to treasure,” read Teague during the Oct. 4 ceremony.

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The annual Blue Ridge Pottery Show and Sale, which is coordinated by the Erwin National Blue Ridge Pottery Club, was held on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Love Chapel Elementary School. The pottery show draws collectors from all across the country who are searching for that special piece of art to add to their collection.

“It’s getting harder and harder for collectors to find the pottery. Your real die hard collectors are here to hunt the hard-to-find pieces,” said Larna Smith, club member and show coordinator. “It’s just hard to imagine that this little town is the source for all of this. At one time it was the number one selling pottery in the United States. There were thousands of pieces shipped out of here every week.”

Collectors filled the gymnasium of Love Chapel Elementary School and perused through countless pieces of pottery that were priced anywhere from $2 to more than $700. Vendors Debbie and Jeff Adler have been coming to the show since 1998 and held the largest booth at the show. The couple has more than 2,000 pieces of pottery and began collecting when they were newlyweds.

“We found our pieces the old fashioned way. We went to antique malls and yard sales…we actually found some of our best pieces at yard sales,” said Debbie Adler. “Sometimes you can confirm it’s Blue Ridge Pottery by the weight of the piece of the glaze, but I think it’s critical to educate yourself. I think it’s really important to buy the books, and don’t be afraid to ask questions before buying something.”

Many collectors have also been able to find valuable pieces by shopping online at sites such as eBay. However, Debbie and Jeff suggest being very creative while searching online, because everything may not be listed as Blue Ridge Pottery.

“It’s just amazing to me that all of this pottery at this show was painted here in Erwin, and it’s coming from all over … California, Minnesota, Oklahoma. There are vendors from Florida and New York even,” said Smith. “All of it is coming back home now. That’s kind of how I like to look at it.”

For those interested in joining the Erwin National Blue Ridge Pottery Club, there are meeting times once per month, April through December, on the first Monday of every month. Each meeting starts at 6 p.m., and there are yearly $10 club dues.