Burlon Craig

 

CRAIG, BURLON
(1914–2002)
was the modern master of the 200-year-old Catawba Valley stoneware tradition in the western Piedmont area of North Carolina. Raised in a region filled with potteryshops, he apprenticed at age fourteen and quickly learned the skills to produce the alkaline-glazed jars, jugs, churns, milk crocks, and pitchers needed by localresidents. He made pottery all his life, and in his later years was renowned for his huge grinning face jugs.Craig began his career in the late 1920s, working first for his neighbor, Jim Lynn, and then as a joumeyman at shops all across the Catawba Valley area in westernLincoln and Catawba Counties. His wares sold for a mere ten cents a gallon and were critical to farm families, who mostly used them to store foods and other goods.Pots were valued for their utility, and artistic embellishments were largely considered a waste of time.When World War II broke out, Craig enlisted in the Navy and served on gun crews on merchant ships in the Pacific. He returned home in 1946 and purchased a pottery shop and kiln, but he realized that demand for the utilitarian forms had fallen off sharply, and most potters had moved on to factory work. Consequently Craigworked in a solitary environment for decades, fully assuming he would be the last in a long line of potters.Beginning in the late 1970s, however, a new clientele comprised of collectors, dealers, academics, and museum curators appeared, who valued Craig’s work for itshistorical and aesthetic significance. Regional and national interest surged creating a new market in which Craig was widely acclaimed for his traditional skills. To appealto new audiences, he began to enlarge his repertory by reviving old forms (ring jugs, monkey jugs) and creating new ones (canister sets, lamp bases). Recognizing that pots were now valued and collected primarily for their artistic (that is, non-functional) qualities, he also increased his use of traditional decorative techniques and beganapplying faces to most of his works. One of Craig’s whimsical face jugs, now in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum, has ears for handles, bulbous eyes,and exhibits an exuberant grotesquerie typical of the southern American tradition.This increase in interest soon attracted younger men eager to learn the authentic forms, glazes, and technology that Craig alone possessed. Through his informal but highly effective teaching, Craig trained new potters and ensured the perpetuation of the CatawbaValley tradition. He also received numerous awards for his achievements, including the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship (1984) and the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award (1991).
See also
Jugs, Face; Pottery, Folk
.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Huffman, Barry.
Catawba Clay. Contemporary Southern Face Jug Makers.
Hickory, N.C., 1997.Zug, Charles G.III.
Burlon Craig: An Open Window into the Past.
Raleigh, N.C., 1994. ——.
Turners and Burners: The Folk Potters of North Carolina.
Chapel Hill, N.C., 1986.