running for the
It's 9 a.m. It's a little nippy on this late November morning, but nothing that a hot cup of coffee in a Bolick mug can't fix. Our greeting - hot black coffee and country fried ham and biscuits - told us that this was family and although we were strangers to the party, we were just as welcome as those who have been coming for decades. Patriarch Glenn Bolick came into pottery when he married Lulu in 1962. "She was the one," he said that worked magic with clay, not him. He learned "to turn" and never looked back. "I watched the family and learned from then." In the 70s, he built a wood fire kiln to "remember the older days of pottery." Twenty-eight years ago they built this one that they fill each Thanksgiving weekend. From what we can see, Glenn isn't much hands-on today; however, he doesn't take his eyes off the action. He's watching over his children. Children of clay.
Called a Ground Hog Kiln, this semi-circle primitive arch takes about 8 hours to get going. Using almost a cord of wood of different types, Mike Calhoun, Glenn's son-in-law, feeds the kiln continuously during the process. He starts with dry wood, then green and dry. When the flame dies down to the top of the chimney, it's the hottest. Modern potters use electric, gas or oil, and generally, so do the Bolicks. But three or four times a year, they let the wood drive the enchantment. "We use the same glaze," says Cochran, "but from the wood, you get different colors." Indeed, vibrant purples and rich turquoises- different hues than the pots and mugs already on the tables. As the new pieces are paraded from the kiln, it's these that garner the attention.
By 9:15 a.m., the crowds have gathered, complete with cameras and coffee. The prime spot is closest to the tape making sure that as the pieces are delivered from the kiln to the tables, they can inspect offerings. They have placed 60 pieces in the kiln this year.
It's 9:30 a.m. and it's time to unload the kiln. Generations get in on the act as the assembly line begins inside the kiln and ends just outside on the table. The family inspects each piece, pricing it, peeling off the temporary bottom support, and then each piece is trotted out to the tables. You hear stirring and whispering; people are pointing.
Santas and face jugs are the most desired pieces; as time nears, Mike (above) brings his one-and-only doubled-sided Santa/Mrs.Santa (complete with glass eyes) jug to the main table, you see people point and you understand THIS is the prize. Minutes before 10 a.m., from the kiln area, Glenn blows the horn to summon all near. Then, the final ceremonial moment: the blessing. "We always do," says Mike. "We ought to bless him. He blesses us." A few final admonitions: wait for the bell and be kind. The bell rings, the tape drops, and it's a free-for-all.
Five minutes pass, and the tables are bare. Everything is gone; people are giddy over their pick, sharing and showing their exclusive Bolick treasure. Game plans tend to pay off in the end, but if you happen to not get one of the 60 prized pieces, there's plenty of artistic treasure in the two galleries onsite. Each piece just as special for each is made from scratch, start to finish. Setting Bolick apart from other potters is they dig their own clay from the South Carolina ground, and then bring it home and grind it in their Pug mill. "We don't waste anything," says Mike. "It keeps costs down, too. About 1200 pounds lasts about seven days. I just can't turn out store bought clay. Not enough grog (sand) for me.You can do whatever you want to it [with what we make]. People love it." Todd Penley and his wife Erin are two that are proof of its draw "My whole house is filled with your work," he tells Mike. "Face jugs are the centerpiece." They live in Mocksville about 75 miles away and have been making the trip each Thanksgiving to the Bolicks for over 20 years. Tradition.
By 10:15 a.m., people have scattered. Most are in line at the two galleries, paying for their prizes or for those not quick enough in the scramble, looking for previously made items by the Bolicks. Glenn Bolick is still outside, looking over the empty tables, chatting with stragglers, and smiling contently for another Thanksgiving wood kiln event is in the books. They'll have another big event in March of 2016 and he's sure people will return with the same giddiness. He likes that. He's proud of this fifth generational project that keeps family together and grounded in tradition. And God willing, he'll be in the center of the action next Thanksgiving.
To keep up with this family tradition, visit the Bolick family website - Traditions Pottery - and make plans next Thanksgiving to run for the pot . . . or rather the gold.