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The Cole Family: A Dynasty of North Carolina Potters

May 7, 2022 - January 21, 2024

Mint Museum Randolph: Robicsek Gallery



Below you will find sections on pottery history in North Carolina, information about the Cole family, and more about the medium itself. To learn more, refer to the Library Resource page for this exhibition.



History of Pottery in North Carolina


Before diving into the history of Cole family potters, it is important to acknowledge the interesting history of pottery across the state.

Using the red clay of North Carolina land, potters have made a variety of beautiful and interesting works. There are three main regions where pottery production has become famous: the Eastern Piedmont, Catawba Valley, and Buncombe Valley. As The Real Jugtown from Our State magazine explains, all three of these places boast the name 'Jugtown' because of how their local histories are tied to the craft. Regardless of which Jugtown came first, these counties represent the success of ceramics in North Carolina. Additionally, there are other North Carolina communities that are less well known, such as the Moravian potters in Forsyth County and potters who use the iron-infused blue clay on North Carolina's coast.





The Cole Family


One of the most enduring and prolific of North Carolina’s potting dynasties is the Cole family, whose members have been potting in central North Carolina—Randolph, Moore, Lee, and Montgomery Counties—for more than two hundred years. Six generations of Coles, a total of 18 individuals, are represented in The Mint Museum’s permanent collection. More than 60 highlights of their wares are included in this installation.


The first Cole documented as a potter was Raphard (1799–1862). He and his sons produced utilitarian stoneware—crocks, jugs, urns—necessary in an agrarian economy. Later generations of Coles distinguished themselves from their forebears first by training their daughters as well as their sons on how to “turn pots.” They also realized that the state’s ever-growing tourist trade had created a steady market for well-formed wares suitable for the home. They responded by producing an impressive variety of colorfully glazed vases, pitchers, candleholders, and other decorative forms. Representative examples of all these wares will be on view in the installation.





Documentary of a Day in the Life of A.R. Cole

Pottery of Neolia Cole Womack 



More About Ceramics


Pottery, while broadly defined as any type of baked clay, has multiple methods that influence the final look of a piece. Aspects such as building methods, glaze types, or kiln temperature influence the quality of the work. The links below provide more context to the technical details of making and the uses of pottery pieces.






Created by Jennifer Winford, Librarian, and RJ Maupin, Library Intern