Burlon Craig (1914-2002) was a highly skilled potter who played a vital role in preserving and promoting the Catawba Valley Pottery tradition in North Carolina. As a master of his craft, Craig received numerous accolades and awards, but he also maintained a strong connection to his local community, friends, and family. In this article, we will discuss Craig's life, his accomplishments, and the significant impact he had on the Catawba Valley Pottery tradition.
Early Life and Career
Born in Lincoln County, North Carolina, Burlon Craig developed a passion for pottery at a young age. He began his apprenticeship with potter James Lynn Wyatt in 1928, learning the skills and techniques that would serve him throughout his career. Over the years, Craig honed his craft, eventually mastering the unique alkaline glazing process used in Catawba Valley Pottery, which sets it apart from other pottery styles.
Craig's dedication to preserving the Catawba Valley Pottery tradition was unwavering, even as demand for handcrafted pottery waned during the mid-20th century. He continued to work as a full-time potter, keeping the tradition alive, and even reinvented himself as a studio potter in the 1970s to keep up with changing trends.
Awards and Recognition
Burlon Craig's hard work and commitment to the art of pottery did not go unnoticed. In 1985, he was awarded the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award, acknowledging his efforts in maintaining the Catawba Valley Pottery tradition. Later, in 1996, he received the esteemed National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which is the highest honor bestowed on traditional artists in the United States. These awards, among others, highlighted Craig's dedication to preserving a vital piece of North Carolina's cultural heritage.
Legacy and Jon Eckard's Photographs
Despite his recognition and accomplishments, Burlon Craig was famously averse to being photographed. He valued his privacy and preferred to let his work speak for itself. However, he made a rare exception for Jon Eckard, whose grandfather was a close friend of Craig's. Growing up together in the tight-knit Catawba Valley community, their bond extended beyond their shared passion for pottery.
As a testament to their friendship, Burlon Craig allowed Jon Eckard to photograph him at work, creating a rare visual record of the master potter in his element. These photographs offer a unique glimpse into the life and process of a man dedicated to preserving the Catawba Valley Pottery tradition, and they serve as a fitting tribute to a true artisan.
Burlon Craig's impact on the Catawba Valley Pottery tradition is undeniable. His tireless dedication to preserving the craft and his willingness to adapt to changing times kept the tradition alive for future generations. Though he may have shied away from the camera, his legacy and influence on the pottery world remain well-documented. Burlon Craig's passion and talent have left an indelible mark on North Carolina's cultural landscape and will continue to inspire potters and artists for years to come.