Francis, Michelle A., Oral Interview: Nell Cole Graves and Bea Cole (Mrs. Waymon Cole), August 31, 1985 CE


Interview of Nell Cole Graves and Bea Cole (Mrs. Waymon Cole)
Transcript of Interview of Nell Cole Graves and Bea Cole (Mrs. Waymon Cole)
Interviewee: Nell Cole Graves
Interviewee: Bea Cole (Mrs. Waymon Cole)
Interviewer: Michelle A. Francis
Date of Interview: August 31, 1985
(Begin Side 1)

Michelle A. Francis:

Today is August 31st and I'm talking with Nell Cole Graves at J.B. Cole's in Seagrove, North Carolina. (Tape stops, then starts)

Michelle A. Francis:

Now, the girl that's typing this, the girl that's transcribing this.

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh-huh.

Michelle A. Francis:

She says, "Now, you tell Nell to get up close:" (Laughter)

Nell Cole Graves:

Oh, no. You tell here I cain't talk loud! (Laughter)

Michelle A. Francis:

She said, "Now don't let her play with any paper and don't let her play with any coins (Laughter).

Nell Cole Graves:

Now, I'm doin' somethin' all the time with my hands.

Michelle A. Francis:

I know.

Nell Cole Graves:

I'm either doin' paper, doin' like that.

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah.

Nell Cole Graves:

Or I've got a pencil and I'm doin' like that with it.

Michelle A. Francis:

You just can't sit still, can you?

Nell Cole Graves:

I can't. I can't be still. I just cannot.

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah, it is hard, I know. I was listenin' to some of the other tapes--see, now there you go (Laughter)!

Nell Cole Graves:

Oh my, move it away from me.

Michelle A. Francis:

I know. I was listenin' to some of the other tapes and someone, I think it might have been one of the Cravens, said that your dad learned how to turn pots from J.D. Craven. Did you ever hear about him, remember him talkin' about




that? That Jase Cole learned how to turn from J.D. Craven?

Nell Cole Graves:

Hm-um. But, uh, Henry Hancock did.

Michelle A. Francis:

Did he?

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh-huh. Henry Hancock learned because, I don't think I've got one of those copies down here, but I've got that at home and I'm pretty sure--I know in there that J.D. Craven taught him. But J.D. Craven didn't teach my daddy, I don't think.

Michelle A. Francis:

You don't think so? I just thought I'd check out that rumor, and see if there was any truth to it.

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum. If he did, I never, uh, he never did tell me anything about it.

Michelle A. Francis:

Do you know who your dad learned from? Was the first potter he worked with?

Nell Cole Graves:

Well, not really, because his people were potters, you see. They came from England over here. That's where we started from. But I don't, you know, Dorothy Auman has probably got the history.

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah, she probably does.

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh-huh.

Michelle A. Francis:

Okay. Well, I just thought I'd ask about that. Last time we talked, we were talkin', tryin' to talk about the pottery here in decades, you know, we talked about the '20s and we talked about the '30s and we were talkin' about the '40s when we quit last time. We were talkin' about who was potting, you know, who was turnin' at that time.

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum.

Michelle A. Francis:

And I think we said that, uh, in the early '40s there was you and Waymon and Philmore. . .

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum, and Bascome King.

Michelle A. Francis:

And Bascome King.

Nell Cole Graves:

My brother-in-law.

Michelle A. Francis:

And, uh, and Ad Luck?

Nell Cole Graves:

And Ad Luck.

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah. And then Ad died and. . .




Nell Cole Graves:

Let me see, I don't think Ad was, in '40s, Ad was. . .

Michelle A. Francis:

That's okay (Laughter) .

Nell Cole Graves:

Ad wasn't turnin' in '40s. Huh-uh. He got here more in uh, I think he died in '42, I guess he just died, uh, I guess he'd be comin' late '40s.

Michelle A. Francis:

In the late '40s was Ad Luck.

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum.

Michelle A. Francis:

Okay. Who, what kind of, who were you sellin' pottery to in the '40s?

Nell Cole Graves:

In the '40s?

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah.

Nell Cole Graves:

We were sellin' pottery to a man in Florida, Frenches.

Michelle A. Francis:

The Frenches? You were still sellin' to the Frenches. And we had talked about them some.

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum.

Michelle A. Francis:

And, you were makin' some big things then.

Nell Cole Graves:

Yeah.

Michelle A. Francis:

Big garden urns, if I remember right.

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum.

Michelle A. Francis:

We were talkin' about that. What else?

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh, well, they wanted like the big stuff, and then they got vases and things like that.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. Flower pots?

Nell Cole Graves:

Big flower pots. Uh-huh.

Michelle A. Francis:

When you say "big", how big are you meaning?

Nell Cole Graves:

Oh, about that high, and about that big around.

Michelle A. Francis:

So that would have been about. . .

Nell Cole Graves:

Great big ones.

Michelle A. Francis:

. . .about 13 inches high?

Nell Cole Graves:

18 inches high.




Michelle A. Francis:

. . .and about?

Nell Cole Graves:

And maybe around 24 inches wide.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum.

Nell Cole Graves:

24 to 25.

Michelle A. Francis:

So those are big flower pots. Would they be glazed?

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum. They were all glazed.

Michelle A. Francis:

What were the colors you were makin' those in?

Nell Cole Graves:

Oh, we made uh, that rust-orange. We made a lot of that for them, then we made some green, and um, the brown sugar.

Michelle A. Francis:

I bet the brown sugar did up nice in those flower pots.

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum. They were pretty.

Michelle A. Francis:

I bet that did, it was really pretty.

Nell Cole Graves:

And we did some in the lighter colors, maybe white and things like that.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. Were you sellin' to anybody else but the Frenches?

Nell Cole Graves:

Yeah. We sold to a lot of the shops in the mountains.

Michelle A. Francis:

In the mountains--North Carolina mountains?

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh-huh.

Michelle A. Francis:

Do you remember any of the companies?

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh. . .

Michelle A. Francis:

This was in the '40s. I remember you tellin' me about Sunset, but that was earlier.

Nell Cole Graves:

No, my daddy was livin' then. It was in the '40s we're sellin' to them.

Michelle A. Francis:

To Sunset?

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum.

Michelle A. Francis:

I thought I remembered you sayin' it was the '20s and early '30s.

Nell Cole Graves:

Oh, maybe I'm gettin' ahead now. It was. Uh-huh.




Because you know, Ad Luck, he didn't make, he didn't work for us when we were sellin' to them.

Michelle A. Francis:

Okay. '20s and early '30s was Sunset.

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum. '30s, mm-hum.

Michelle A. Francis:

So who else? What mountain people did you sell to in the '40s?

Nell Cole Graves:

Well, we sold to, uh, let me see, it was Black Mountain, and I forgot the name of their place.

Michelle A. Francis:

But it was a pottery in Black Mountain?

Nell Cole Graves:

That was a, just a gift shop in Black Mountain.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum.

Nell Cole Graves:

And then we sold to one, another one in the mountains, uh, that was, Ralph Lawrence, but I don't know what his shop went by.

Michelle A. Francis:

Ralph Lars?

Nell Cole Graves:

Ralph Lawrence.

Michelle A. Francis:

Lawrence. Okay.

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum. That was in the mountains. And a lot of other people, little shops would come and buy for their shops.

Michelle A. Francis:

Were you doin' any retail business?

Nell Cole Graves:

Yeah, we'd do retail here. Uh-huh. But we sold wholesale to them.

Michelle A. Francis:

Was it, was mainly your business wholesale at that, in the '40s?

Nell Cole Graves:

A lot of it was, mm-hum.

Michelle A. Francis:

A majority of it, would you say, or about half and half?

Nell Cole Graves:

About half and half.

Michelle A. Francis:

Half and half. So, your retail business was pickin' up.

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh-huh. It was gettin' better then. It was gettin' a lot better.

Michelle A. Francis:

Why do you think that was?

Nell Cole Graves:

Well, there's just more people comin' to the south.




Michelle A. Francis:

For vacation?

Nell Cole Graves:

Vacations. Uh-huh. And they'd be goin' to Florida and they'd come by of course--220, you see, they could come down 220. And a lot of 'em came down here.

Michelle A. Francis:

Came down and stopped and bought pottery.

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh-huh.

Michelle A. Francis:

Who else was helping you in the shop? Who was doin' the firin' and glazin'?

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh, Johnny Kennedy and I did most of the glazin'.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. I remember you mentioned him. He would dip one time and you would dip the second.

Nell Cole Graves:

Yeah! (Laughter)

Michelle A. Francis:

You'd have to hold him so he wouldn't fall in.

Nell Cole Graves:

I'd have to hold him up there to keep him from fallin' in! (Laughter) He was a little 'un.

Michelle A. Francis:

How long did he work for y'all?

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm, I guess he worked maybe uh, maybe 10, 12 years before he died.

Michelle A. Francis:

A long time.

Nell Cole Graves:

Maybe a little longer. He worked with 'em until he died.

Michelle A. Francis:

Was that in the '50s, or when did he die?

Nell Cole Graves:

He died uh, I've forgotten exactly. He died in the '60s, 'cause, uh. . .

Michelle A. Francis:

Did he die before Philmore did?

Nell Cole Graves:

Now wait a minute. When, what year was the war over?

Michelle A. Francis:

'45.

Nell Cole Graves:

'45. He died maybe uh, in the '50s.

Michelle A. Francis:

Who else did you have helpin' you in the '40s? You and he were doin' the glazing.

Nell Cole Graves:

Oh, Johnny and I were doin' the glazin', but the others worked at the kiln. There was Henry Jordan.




Michelle A. Francis:

Henry Jordan.

Nell Cole Graves:

And Johnny Jordan.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum.

Nell Cole Graves:

And Ralph Jordan.

Michelle A. Francis:

All three brothers?

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh-huh.

Michelle A. Francis:

Well, that's a big job. How many kilns a day--a week were you gettin' out?

Nell Cole Graves:

We were gettin' out, oh, we had a small kiln and a large kiln. Sometimes we'd get out two a week.

Michelle A. Francis:

Two a week?

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum.

Michelle A. Francis:

That would have been a lot of work. A lot of pots to make.

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-huh. Yeah. And Waymon and Phil and myself were doin' the, makin' the pots.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. That kept you pretty busy, I guess.

Nell Cole Graves:

Yeah: It did.

Michelle A. Francis:

Was Bascome here?

Nell Cole Graves:

Bascome, he was makin' pots, too.

Michelle A. Francis:

I guess you just each had your own shapes that yours made?

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum.

Michelle A. Francis:

Who made the plates? Were you makin' plates back then?

Nell Cole Graves:

I made plates. I made plates and pie plates.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum.

Nell Cole Graves:

And bowls and things like that.

Michelle A. Francis:

Cups?

Nell Cole Graves:

And casseroles.

Michelle A. Francis:

Casseroles.




Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum. Made casseroles. Made casseroles until Virginia came back in uh, '64 and worked for us. She started makin' the. . .

Michelle A. Francis:

. . .casseroles.

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh-huh. She worked with her daddy and she made stuff for Charlie Cole in her house. She didn't go work with Charlie, but she made it and he paid her so much.

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah.

Nell Cole Graves:

And then she came back to us in '64. So I didn't make any more pie plates or casseroles.

Michelle A. Francis:

You made mainly just the. . .

Nell Cole Graves:

Smaller pieces.

Michelle A. Francis:

. . .little smaller pieces.

Nell Cole Graves:

Because you see I had to have a operation.

Michelle A. Francis:

That's right. You were tellin' me about that. What, is there anything that you remember especially about the '40s? About that time period?

Nell Cole Graves:

In the '40s?

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah. Anything that kind of stands out in your mind?

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm, that's when my daddy died, in the '40s, and then Waymon and I (sigh), let's see, I don't know. No.

Michelle A. Francis:

Can't think of anything right now?

Nell Cole Graves:

Cain't think of anything right now.

Michelle A. Francis:

One of your brothers that you mentioned to me last time was Herman Cole?

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh-huh.

Michelle A. Francis:

And you said he had started up a little pottery?

Nell Cole Graves:

He started a pottery in Smithfield.

Michelle A. Francis:

In Smithfield?

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum.

Michelle A. Francis:

And you said he was in the service.

Nell Cole Graves:

No. He, he was in World War I.




Michelle A. Francis:

World War I.

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum.

Michelle A. Francis:

Okay, I wanted to make sure I understood that, because we didn't say which war. (Laughter)

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum. World War I. And he was the oldest one.

Michelle A. Francis:

The oldest brother?

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum.

Michelle A. Francis:

And I think you said he started his pottery in 1929, 1930?

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh, it probably was around 1930.

Michelle A. Francis:

How long did, how many years did he make pots?

Nell Cole Graves:

I'd say around 5 years, 5 to 6.

Michelle A. Francis:

About 5. So he wasn't in business a whole long time, was he?

Nell Cole Graves:

Not a long, long time. I'd say maybe for 6 years.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. Did he sign his pieces Smithfield Pottery?

Nell Cole Graves:

Smithfield Pottery, I think.

Michelle A. Francis:

He did.

Nell Cole Graves:

I believe he signed 'em.

Michelle A. Francis:

Did he have the same glazes that you did? That your dad did at that time?

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh, no, not exactly the same. But he did have some of the glazes that we had.

Michelle A. Francis:

What colors did he have, do you remember?

Nell Cole Graves:

He had that, uh, they made some red and they made, I believe he got, he made some blue, I think. And uh, he made that uh, a slip that makes that red, but it looks soft red like the. . .

Michelle A. Francis:

Sort of like a rust?

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum. Kind of like a rust color. And he made green. I can't remember all of his colors now. And I think, I'm pretty sure he made the cream and brown. I think he made the cream and the brown.




Michelle A. Francis:

And he was doin' the turnin'?

Nell Cole Graves:

No, huh-uh. He had to hire out for turnin'. Jack Kiser turned there.

Michelle A. Francis:

Jack Kiser turned?

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh-huh. And Charlie Craven turned, and a McNeil turned for him for a while.

Michelle A. Francis:

McNeil?

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh-huh. His name was uh, I can't think of it right now. Maybe it will come to me.

Michelle A. Francis:

Did anybody take over the pottery? Or did he just quit?

Nell Cole Graves:

Yeah, he just quit. He just quit the pottery.

Michelle A. Francis:

He just quit. He decided he didn't want to do it anymore?

Nell Cole Graves:

Right. (Laughter)

Michelle A. Francis:

Well, did he run the business? Did he do any of the glazin'?

Nell Cole Graves:

Yes, he did the glazin'.

Michelle A. Francis:

He did do the glazin'. And helped with the firing, I guess.

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum. He did most of the firin' himself.

Michelle A. Francis:

Uh-huh.

Nell Cole Graves:

He had, uh, a little large kiln. I know if whenever you look at the book that uh, the Smithsonian book of clay. You see that big kiln in there? The Smithfield Pottery?

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. That was his?

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum. That was my brother standin' there.

Michelle A. Francis:

Oh! Well, I'll go back and take another look at that.

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum. He was the one that fired that kiln.

Michelle A. Francis:

Okay. You don't have a copy of that here, do you?

Nell Cole Graves:

I don't have a copy here.

Michelle A. Francis:

Okay. Somethin' else I was gonna ask you about him.




Nell Cole Graves:

They didn't have no children.

Michelle A. Francis:

No children?

Nell Cole Graves:

Hum-um. And that's why, his wife is the one I had to go and see every afternoon. But he died in, um, let's see, '82.

Michelle A. Francis:

He died in '82?

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum. He's been dead 3, 3 years. (Tape stops, then starts)

Michelle A. Francis:

Nell, I want you to tell me about the candle shop.

Nell Cole Graves:

My candle shop?

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah, your candle shop. When did you start that?

Nell Cole Graves:

Well, we uh, we started it in uh, maybe around '62. And then we, when we started we put it, we started in a basement.

Michelle A. Francis:

Of your house?

Nell Cole Graves:

In the basement of the house. And then we. . .

Michelle A. Francis:

You and Philmore?

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh-huh. And then we got a little too big. It got too large for us down there. We was gettin' wholesale orders and all. So we built a building and uh, let's see, '64, and then we moved into it, uh, early '64.

Michelle A. Francis:

What got you started doin' candles?

Nell Cole Graves:

Well, people would, as they'd get candle holders say, "Well, why don't you make candles to match 'em?" And so they just kept on and so we decided we'd make some.

Michelle A. Francis:

Huh.

Nell Cole Graves:

We started off little.

Michelle A. Francis:

Did you start out with just the two of you workin' on it?

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh-huh.

Michelle A. Francis:

Did you make the candles yourself?

Nell Cole Graves:

Yeah.

Michelle A. Francis:

How'd you do that?




Nell Cole Graves:

Vellie did. Yeah. So she helped me. And then, after Vellie got too old to do it, I hired Ida, I mean, uh, let's see, what is that woman's name? I got Mable Yow to take her place, then. She was one of my neighbors. And so Mable started then when Vellie got too old.

Michelle A. Francis:

Got too old to work?

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum.

Michelle A. Francis:

Who's workin' there now?

Nell Cole Graves:

Mable.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mable is?

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum. Mable's still with me.

Michelle A. Francis:

Huh. Does she do the dippin' still?

Nell Cole Graves:

Uh-huh. She does the dippin' and pourin', everything now. The only thing I do at night, I go out there and make up the wax for her.

Michelle A. Francis:

Uh-huh.

Nell Cole Graves:

She doesn't want that responsibility.

Michelle A. Francis:

Goodness. So it's just the two of you runnin' it basically?

Nell Cole Graves:

Right, right.

Michelle A. Francis:

I don't know how you do it, Nell! (Laughter)

Nell Cole Graves:

Nervous energy! (Laughter) I got to keep goin', or I'd fall all to pieces.

Michelle A. Francis:

Well, how many candles do you make a day?

Nell Cole Graves:

Well, she can dip several. I guess she could finish up maybe around 100 pair.

Michelle A. Francis:

100 pair a day?

Nell Cole Graves:

Mm-hum. A day, yeah.

Michelle A. Francis:

That's right many.

Nell Cole Graves:

And then the pourin', you see, that's not too bad. It's just pour 'em in there and let 'em harden and then take 'em out and put the drill, drill a hole in 'em and put the wax.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum.


Title
Francis, Michelle A., Oral Interview: Nell Cole Graves and Bea Cole (Mrs. Waymon Cole), August 31, 1985 CE
Description
Michelle A. Francis' interview with North Carolina potter Nell Cole Graves and Bea Cole (the latter does not speak), in which Ms. Graves describes working in her father's pottery shop. She discusses how she made the smaller items, including dishes, while her brother Waymon made larger items such as flower pots. She talks about various business arrangements they had with sellers, including one in Black Mountain. Toward the end of the interview she describes the candle-making business she started on the side.
Date
August 31, 1985
Original Format
oral histories
Extent
Local Identifier
OHSOAD
Creator(s)
Contributor(s)
Subject(s)
Spatial
Location of Original
Jenkins Fine Arts Center
Rights
This item has been made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Researchers are responsible for using these materials in accordance with Title 17 of the United States Code and any other applicable statutes. If you are the creator or copyright holder of this item and would like it removed, please contact us at als_digitalcollections@ecu.edu.
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