During the 1970s, Rodney Leftwich became interested in the regional folk pottery traditions of western North Carolina. He collected numerous examples, studying their forms, glazes, methods of manufacture and makers. Inspired by the simple functional forms and beautiful earth- toned glazes, he purchased a potters wheel and learned to make pottery.
His first pieces included traditional utilitarian forms glazed with locally dug clay slips, crushed iron rock, and wood ashes. Self-sufficient mountain farmer potters used what was available. Learning that North Carolina’s earliest face jugs were created near Candler in the 1870s, he became fascinated with their folk charm and history. Local potters learned their trade in South Carolina in the 1830s and 1840s, the region where face jugs had been made by African American slaves.
When other potters began creating similar face jugs and utilitarian work, Rodney decided to modify his approach. Drawing had always been his interest since an early age, and his style changed slowly from that of a folk potter to that of an art potter. Eventually he began to incise and cut out detailed images of farms, mountain people, animals, and waterfalls. This style, while rooted in the historical traditions of his region, was unique in its approach. Rodney describes these works as art pottery derived from regional folk traditions.
In addition to local folk pottery inspirations, Rodney has also appreciated the early art pottery of western North Carolina. The state’s first art pottery was begun by Walter Stephen in 1913, just south of Asheville. Stephen operated Nonconnah and Pisgah Forest potteries which became nationally recognized. The first crystalline glazes in the South, as well as a unique cameo designs resembling English Wedgwood, were created there. Rodney worked part time at Pisgah Forest Pottery where he revived these old traditions which had been discontinued in the 1950s.
Rodney is a native of western North Carolina who treasures the historical folk and art pottery traditions of the region. He is the author of Pisgah Forest and Nonconnah, The Potteries of Walter B. Stephen. He also co authored the book North Carolina Art Pottery, as well as numerous articles and exhibition catalogs. His unique pottery is widely collected and is in numerous museums and private collections. He is a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, the American Art Pottery Association, and Number 7 Arts in Brevard.