Potters of the Piedmont Festival: Just in time for holiday shopping season
By: Terry Rader
The Potters of the Piedmont Pottery Festival may only be 6 years old, but painter/potter Molly Lithgo and potter Jim Rientjes of Earthworks Pottery have had their hands in clay for decades. In 2002, they combined their love of the craft and started having pottery shows in their former Greensboro College Hill district studio. In 2006, Rientjes went full-time as a potter where he proudly proclaims he learned how to get paid to “play in the mud.” A few years later, they realized they wanted to invite others to participate and expanded their studio shows to include seven additional potters in 2011. Rientjes said he felt it was important for people to know they could buy pottery made locally in their Triad communities.
Rientjes and Lithgo opened Earthworks Gallery in April 2012 in Jim Gutsell’s former South Elm Pottery location. They worked with the City of Greensboro to hold pottery shows in the parking lot across the street. In 2013, it grew and occupied the full length of East Lewis Street, and the vendors doubled by spring of 2014. When the fall show got rained out that year, Lithgo and Reintjes aggressively began searching for an indoor facility. They approached Leonard Center supervisor Linda Marsh, and she was very excited to house the show for Greensboro’s quarter-million residents to have an opportunity to partake in a local pottery festival.
“Greensboro Parks and Recreation and Leonard Center are proud and happy to be able to host this show that impacts so many in such a positive manner,” Marsh said. “We hope to continue our partnership with Jim and Molly. We are working together to make Greensboro a better place.”
Rientjes was thankful to finally be able to promise that festivals would be rain or shine beginning in 2015 in a newer facility. The festival now has 45 booths in the gym plus two other rooms with well over 50 potters, and some shared booths. (Carolina Clay Guild’s booth usually includes three or four potters.)
This year’s festival will be held on Nov. 10 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Leonard Recreation Center, located at 6324 Ballinger Rd. in Greensboro. This year will feature potters from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
Some of the first potters included Lithgo, Rientjes, Lorrie Anderson of Moose Hollow Pottery, Brett McDonough of Wild Rumpass Ceramics, Leanne Pizio of Stealing Crow Farm, and Tim Moran and Janet Gaddy of Celtic Pottery. Rientjes said the pottery styles include traditional plates, mugs, bowls, vases and serving platters, many of which are fully functional pieces. There is anything from art deco styles by Hog Hill Pottery of Vale, North Carolina, to Raku wall hangings, mirrors and sculpted clocks by Courtney Tomchik of Clemmons.
“It’s all word of mouth,” Rientjes said. “Potters talk to each other, and we tell each other about the pottery festivals we go to.”
“Very few states have festivals with just pottery,” Lithgo explained. “North Carolina is unique in having several.”
Rientjes said he wanted to create things that didn’t have to be precise after years of making furniture for a living. He is a production potter and builds his pottery by hand with slab rollers, extruders, molds and templates. If he makes you a set of plates and you break one, you can come back later, and he’ll make another to replace it. He doesn’t smooth out clay texture or pour glazes, but brushes his glazes on and creates pieces that have natural, non-straightened shapes. Lithgo throws her pots on the wheel and hand carves, paints and decorates each piece so that there are never two of the same.
Potters of the Piedmont are all about giving back to the community. Each year, they donate 1,000 pounds of clay for local potters to make bowls to donate to the Greensboro Urban Ministry’s annual Feast of Caring held the Thursday before Thanksgiving. In its 27th year, this annual feast of soup and bread is scheduled for Nov. 15 and is now served twice a day. With a minimum $25 donation for a feast ticket, attendees also receive a regionally made pottery bowl or five Honor Cards painted by North Carolina artist Bill Magnum.
“Jim and Molly have been key to cultivating partnerships with [POTP] potters in the community as well as with artists at the Art Alliance and the Center for Visual Artists,” said development associate of GUM Cheryl Ledford. “They are all using their talents to help support our cause at GUM.”
Each year at POTP’s festival, GUM has an annual drawing with a requested minimum $2 donation at their information table for a piece of pottery that Rientjes and Lithgo purchase from one of the potters and donates it to GUM. POTP also gives a free booth to Mosaic-A Lifespan Studio in Greensboro that features pottery created by adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Lithgo and Rientjes would like to remind readers that they should support local artists by shopping for holiday gifts at the festival.
For more information about POTP, visit the website.
TERRY RADER is a former ad agency pro creative director, branding strategist, Earth Harmony columnist and storyteller on a mission to write stories to promote creative people, grassroots, sustainability and underground happenings in our community while she pet/home sits and writes her personal stories, songs, poems, and nature essays.
11/10: The Potters of the Piedmont Pottery Festival, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., free admission and parking at Leonard Recreation Center, 6324 Ballinger Rd. in Greensboro
11/15: The 27th Annual Feast of Caring, lunch 11:30am-1:30 p.m. and dinner 5 -7 p.m. at First Baptist Church, 1000 W. Friendly Ave. in Greensboro. For details and to purchase tickets, visit the Greensboro Urban Ministry website, Art Alliance and Center for Visual Artists.