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The Craven Family of North Carolina Potters (redirected from The Craven Family of North Carolina Potters)

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The Craven Family of North Carolina Potters

August 30, 2008 – March 22, 2009

Mint Museum of Art: Bridges Gallery


Craven Family of North Carolina Potters exhibition page on the Mint Museum website




The Craven family of potters has lived in North Carolina for over 200 years. There have been nine generations of potters since Peter Craven set foot in the Piedmont, and living descendants still carry on the tradition. Most of the early pieces are ovular or cylindrical jugs meant for everyday use. They are simple examples of salt-glazed stoneware; only exhibiting three or more bands for decoration and little or no color; yet each piece of earthenware is an example of genuine craftsmanship. Their simplicity makes the aberrations, which occur in the firing process, a source of intrigue for the viewer. The later pieces exhibit a bit more color and are not the large utility pieces that were once the norm. This is due to increasing demand for more artwork as well as the Temperence Movement, Prohibition, and the Great Depression. There was no longer any need for the typical moonshine jugs and the advent of the American Art Pottery movement gave rise to more decorative pieces. Despite this change in styles, it is clear in both periods that the simultaneous functionality and beauty of the Cravens' pottery make them some of North Carolina's most valuable gems.



Tradition asserts that Peter Craven moved to North Carolina in the mid 1700's and settled in Randolph County. Although there is debate as to whether Peter and his son Thomas were potters, the craft definitely emerges with Reverend John Craven. Within John's generation, some of the family spread out to Tennessee and Georgia while a few of his descendants remained in North Carolina. There were many possible reasons why the Cravens left North Carolina; some could have been trying to escape the Civil War, some may have wanted to move to places where potters were in demand, many probably wanted more land and some possibly wished to distance themselves from slavery. Reverend John's children who did stay in North Carolina were Enoch and Anderson who continued the potting tradition and passed it on to their children. Various family members married into other prolific North Carolina potting families such as the Hayes, the Coles and the Foxes. This exhibition focuses on the extensive work of the Cravens from 1850-1990 in North Carolina and on the last four generations of Cravens.

The Family

*Indicates their work is on display

Reverend John (c.1770-1832)

  • The patriarch of the last four generations, John was a Methodist minister and was the first Craven documented as a potter. No known examples of his work exist.


Anderson (1801-1872)

  • Anderson took after his father and became a preacher as well as a potter. He ran his own pottery shop as well as a country store and although commonly referred to as Anderson, his real name was John. Pottery with both the markings J.A.C. and A.C. are considered to be his work.


*Enoch Spinks (1810-1893)

  • A mechanic as well as a potter, Enoch fought in the Civil War and is known for distinctive cogglewheel designs on pots and jugs. He married Susannah Hayes and probably taught her brothers and uncles the potting trade. The Mint Museum owns eight pieces of his work, five of which are on display.


*William N. (1820-1903)

  • William is most likely the Craven responsible for "strap" handles which are a characteristic of most later Craven pottery. He may have been able to develop his new methods because he had more freedom running his own shop. One of his pieces in the Mint collection is on display.


*John A. (1824-1858)

  • As well as being a potter, John was a merchant and a sawmiller, and worked with his brothers Tom W. and J.D. for a time. He is known for massive ware and for being involved in the entire process of creating a pot: from digging his own clay to firing the piece. Two examples of his work are on display.
  • For an idea of just how large John would make his pottery, the Mint Museum website Crafting In NC features one of John's jars.


*J. Dorris (1827-1895)

  • Nicknamed "J.D.," he was once called "the daddy rabbit of all of it" by his grandson Grady. He was known for teaching various potting techniques, including some of the Craven traditional styles, to neighboring men like John Wesley Teague and Bryant Owens who then started up their own trades. Out of the 18 of his pieces the Mint owns, four examples of his work are on display


*Thomas W. (1829-1858)

  • Because he only produced pottery for a short period of time, Tom's pieces are very rare. The Mint Museum is fortunate to own one of his pieces which is on display. Tom is known for using masonic emblems and Cobalt blue sumac or pecan trees on his pottery.


*I. Franklin (1863-c.1946)

  • "Frank" worked for his father J.D. for a time. When he left home, he established his own shop in Randolph County. One of his jugs is on display.


*Daniel Z. (1873-1949)

  • Although he is known for primarily making utilitarian pieces, Daniel's flower basket on display is evidence that he also created decorative pieces. This may have been due to the rising demand for artware. To help in the production of his pottery, all of Daniel's children were involved in the making of earthenware. Throwing was a task reserved for the boys, but preparing clay, making glaze, and cleaning were chores the boys as well as the girls participated in.


*Walter H. (1887-1975)

  • The milk crock on display was probably made while Walter worked at his father's shop. He quit the trade after he got married so his work is quite rare.


W. Braxton (1901-1985)

  • Most commonly refered to as "Brack," Braxton worked in a furniture factory in High Point, but later went into business with his brother Charlie. They called their shop Craven Pottery and broke away from traditional Craven pottery by using more colorful lead-based glazes. Their attempt to compete in the Art Pottery market may have worked if it had not been for the Great Depression's failing economy. After the shop closed, there were no more pieces attributed to him.


*Charles B. (1909-1991)

  • "Charlie" is one of the more renowned of the later Craven dynasty. After Craven Pottery failed, he went to work for mills and even had a grocery business. It was only after Charlie went into retirement that the majority of his work was created. The skills he learned from working as a boy in his father's shop stayed with him, perhaps due to his father's discipline. A good example of this discipline is an event Charlie recalled when he wanted to go fishing, but had to stay in his father's shop and help him throw pots. He couldn't wait to go so he would start by throwing a pot, but then he would tear it up before he made progress. Eventually his father caught on to what he was doing and said that Charlie couldn't leave until he had finished making 35 to 40 pieces. Out of the enormous amount of pottery he created in his lifetime, the Mint owns 13 pieces. Five of them are on display.
  • The Digital Library at East Carolina University has an interview between Charlie and Michelle A. Francis in the Dwight M. Holland Ceramics Teaching Collection.


*L. Farrell (1911-1972)

  • Although Farrell never ran his own shop, he "Turned, glazed, and fired all of his own ware," (Scarborough 82) for other people's shops including Ben Owens. He is known for the intense concentration he maintained while he was working. There were several occasions when he completely ignored people, including his sister Bessie, whenever they came in the shop. On display are five examples of his work.
  • For a list of shops Farrell worked for, scroll to the bottom of the section about Farrell (site is no longer available) Gallery C has on it's website.


Grady F. (1917-?)

  • Grady stayed at home long after his brothers left and was able to witness the change from creating utility pieces to artware due to changing supply and demand. The Mint Museum owns one of his pieces.
  • For a look at an interview with Grady Craven, the Digital Library at East Carolina University has documented one in the Dwight M. Holland Ceramics Teaching Collection by Michelle A. Francis.




  • The chapter, Craven Pottery, from Raised in Clay: The Southern Pottery Tradition by Nancy Sweezy is online at Google Books. There is also a copy of the book in the library (NK4011.S84 1994) with more information on North Carolina potters.
  • Visit the Craven Family Pottery  (Note: this link appears to be inactive 4/27/11),website for more general information on the history or information about buying a piece.
  • For some information on the transitional period between functional to decorative ware, this article in the online Journal of Antiques and Collectibles is a great place to look. It also mentions some of the techniques used by the Craven family.
  • Some additional information on Folk Pottery can be found in the online New Georgia Encyclopedia.
  • The New York Times has an article about North Carolina's history of potters and mentions the Craven's influence.

In Print

  • A list of Craven Family resources from MARCO (The Mint Art Research Catalog Online)
  • Hewitt, Mark. The Potter's Eye: Art and Tradition in North Carolina Pottery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005. NK4025.N8 H49 2005 As the title suggests, this book is a potter's look into the world of North Carolina pottery and presents a more artistic view of Craven pottery, evident in the descriptions.
  • Morton, Willard D. Handmade: A History of the North State Pottery, 1924-1959, Sanford, NC. Booneville, NC: Carolina Avenue Press, 2003. NK4210.N67 M67 2003 Highlights several biographies of North Carolina potters including Charlie Craven. Also has some good pictures and interesting information.
  • North Carolina Pottery: The Collection of the Mint Museums. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. NK4025.N8 N67 2004 Centered on the extensive collection of the Mint Museum, it contains several pages of Craven pots and details on selected pieces.
  • Scarborough, Quincy. The Craven Family of Southern Folk Potters: North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri. Fayetteville, NC: Quincy Scarborough Companies, 2005. NK4210.C72 S33 2005 This book is highly recommended for information about specific Craven potters. It has the most in-depth information on family members, including quotes by Charlie, Grady and many others. (Note: an online version of this title is available from the Family History Archives of Brigham Young University 4/26/11)
  • Zug, Charles G. Turners and Burners: The Folk Potters of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986. NK4025.N8 Z82 1986 A general look at the various potters of North Carolina, with good information about a few of the Craven family members. Portions of the book may be read online through Google Books.






Page created by Lauren DeReese, Intern at the Mint Museum Library


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