Francis, Michelle A., Oral Interview: Joe and Overa Leach Owen, May 17, 1983 CE


Interview of Joe and Overa Leach Owen
Transcript of Interview of Joe and Overa Leach Owen
Interviewee: Joe Owen
Interviewee: Overa Leach Owen
Interviewer: Michelle A. Francis
Date of Interview: May 17, 1983
(Begin Side 1)

Michelle A. Francis:

Today is May 17, 1983. Now, tell us your name, Mr. Owen.

Joe Owen:

Joe Owen.

Michelle A. Francis:

And when were you born?

Joe Owen:

1910.

Michelle A. Francis:

1910? And Mrs. Owen, what was your maiden name?

Overa Leach Owen:

Leach.

Michelle A. Francis:

Leach? And your first name?

Overa Leach Owen:

Overa.

Michelle A. Francis:

Overa? And when were you born?

Overa Leach Owen:

1916.

Michelle A. Francis:

1916. What month?

Overa Leach Owen:

May, uh, March!

Michelle A. Francis:

March?

Joe Owen:

I's born April 24th.

Michelle A. Francis:

April 24th. (Tape stops, then starts)

Michelle A. Francis:

Now, what I thought I wanted to do first was for you to tell me a little bit about your parents. Because weren't they potters?

Joe Owen:

Yes.

Michelle A. Francis:

What was your dad's name?

Joe Owen:

Rufus Owen.




Michelle A. Francis:

Rufus Owen?

Joe Owen:

Yes.

Michelle A. Francis:

When was he born, do you know?

Joe Owen:

Oh, my goodness.

Michelle A. Francis:

Just about, approximate date?

Joe Owen:

Don't know if I can get that one right now. I just [unintelligible]

Michelle A. Francis:

Okay. Well, we can talk about that later. What about your mother? What was her maiden name?

Overa Leach Owen:

MacNeil.

Joe Owen:

MacNeil.

Michelle A. Francis:

MacNeil? Was she, was her folks potters, too?

Joe Owen:

Her father was. I had, uh, potters on both sides.

Michelle A. Francis:

You did. So you kind of grew up workin'.

Joe Owen:

Yeah.

Michelle A. Francis:

Where did your dad have his pottery?

Joe Owen:

Well, he used to work with the other potters, you know, over on the wheel, and he finally supervised here and made pots. He did work in different potteries, all.

Michelle A. Francis:

Who did he work for during this time?

Joe Owen:

Who did he work for?

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. Who'd he turn for?

Joe Owen:

Well, that's pretty--uh, he worked for. . .

Michelle A. Francis:

Do you remember?

Joe Owen:

Richardson. I could give you the names.

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah. That's. . .

Joe Owen:

Teague and Chrisco.

Michelle A. Francis:

And Chrisco.




Joe Owen:

And him and Chrisco, William Chrisco was in halvers one time, you know, partnerships and potteries and there was a difference in years.

Michelle A. Francis:

Were you born then?

Joe Owen:

Yeah. I's around, what, I guess about 16 or 15. [unintelligible]

Michelle A. Francis:

Who did your dad have workin' for him after he had his own place?

Joe Owen:

Well, my brothers.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. That would Ben, Charlie?

Joe Owen:

Ben, Charlie, and, uh, on the other side I think they had some help on another site when he's in Fayetteville[note]. When he's workin' for, just workin' for other people, why he just did nothin' for hisself, you see, they [unintelligible]. When they was over here in partnerships with, uh, William Chrisco, that's been a long time ago, but I think it was.

Michelle A. Francis:

That's all right.

Joe Owen:

. . .yeah, Ben worked with him, my brother, you know, the one you've been over there. . .

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah. So did you, you boys then, did all the turnin'?

Joe Owen:

Well, he worked there. Now, I didn't have, I didn't work there.

Michelle A. Francis:

You didn't for your dad.

Joe Owen:

No. Not then. But we, oh we put up out here, that's been, uh, oh gosh, I just can't think of it. I guess it was back in the '30s.

Michelle A. Francis:

When you started, you put up shop out here? When you say out here, you mean on this property?

Joe Owen:

Yes. Out here where we are.

Michelle A. Francis:

Where you are now. Okay. You've had this pottery out here since the 1930s.

Joe Owen:

Seems like since in the '30s. And then we hired, uh, I couldn't make pottery then, I couldn't turn on the wheel, so we got different ones to come and work.

Michelle A. Francis:

Who? Do you remember some of the people who came out here to work?

Joe Owen:

Well, yes. We got one man, Pascal Merryville from Cedar Falls. He was old!




Michelle A. Francis:

Haskell?

Joe Owen:

Pascal Merryville.

Michelle A. Francis:

Merryville.

Joe Owen:

That was his name.

Michelle A. Francis:

That's an unusual name.

Joe Owen:

It is. But he was, he lived over Cedar Falls and he'd come over here and worked. Then I was, you know, I was small and I was not so little, but I mean I wasn't very old. And so, then we had, uh, after that we had two, three others to turn.

Michelle A. Francis:

Did Rance Steed ever turn?

Joe Owen:

He never did turn here. But, he'd work around the place, but he never did turn. He's colored.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. Somebody was, um, who was talkin' to me? Harwood was tellin' me about him today. That he turned a lot of places.

Joe Owen:

He did.

Michelle A. Francis:

How old were you when you started to turn?

Joe Owen:

Well, I tell you, when this Merryville was here, I was just a helpin' around there and I was, guess I was 14 years, 15 or 15--something like that. I don't know if I was quite that or not. Anyway, I, uh, began to work on the wheel after he'd quit. I just kept on until I got to where I could. . .

Michelle A. Francis:

So you just kind of taught yourself by watchin' others?

Joe Owen:

Yeah. Mostly by just takin' on myself. You know, I'd watch him turn and after he'd quit I'd get on there and play with it some, I'd try to turn. Then after while, uh, I hired different ones. I've hired Ferrell Craven.

Michelle A. Francis:

Heard of him.

Joe Owen:

Uh-huh. He's a good potter. I hired him, uh, after I got into it. And I hired, uh, Cole, Clarence Cole. He's dead. He used to work for me. And Jim Teague.

Michelle A. Francis:

I was gonna go talk to Mr. Teague.

Joe Owen:

He worked for me over here one time. Well, he potted over here in this other building one time. [unintelligible]




And, uh, then I had, we had different ones, but it's hard to just come up with everyone that I had in, if he come in and helped, you know.

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah.

Joe Owen:

And, we made salt glaze--churns, jars, pitchers and things like that.

Michelle A. Francis:

Utilitarian type of use.

Joe Owen:

You know, what they used, back then. You couldn't go out and just pick up all these, uh, containers like they got now. I guess you think I'm gettin' pretty old. Well, I'll tell you how old I am. I'm 73 years old.

Michelle A. Francis:

Oh, you're not!

Joe Owen:

Yes I am.

Michelle A. Francis:

I wouldn't a said that.

Joe Owen:

Well, but anyway, these things come around, you know. And we made jugs and jars and pitchers and we'd sell them just like pots. But mostly things that people had to use. Well, after we quit that, then we went to what we call the other type pottery, you know.

Michelle A. Francis:

How did you sell your pottery? Did people come to your pottery shop like they do today?

Joe Owen:

No, when we was workin' the store, they'd come and give you the order what they wanted. And then they'd buy it and take it off and resell it.

Michelle A. Francis:

So you had, like dealers come in here. Or merchants, or something?

Joe Owen:

We'd have, no, it wasn't merchants. It would be somebody that would buy it and sell it to the merchants, you see, haul it in different places. Lot of 'em would haul it down eastern part of the state, and all around the eastern part we'd used to sell.

Michelle A. Francis:

Did you all ever go out on wagons to sell it like some of the potteries did?

Joe Owen:

No, never did. But they, there're many gone out, but I never did go out.

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah. You all just took orders.

Joe Owen:

Yeah. And made it [note]

Michelle A. Francis:

Did the local people come by and buy just a piece here and a churn?




Joe Owen:

Not much back then. Not like it is now, you see.

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah.

Joe Owen:

Most of 'em, then, when they got a piece of the stoneware, they, they went to, uh, well the local people would some, but most of 'em, they'd go to these here stores, like hardwares, seed and feed stores. They'd go there.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. They'd get it there.

Joe Owen:

Yeah.

Michelle A. Francis:

When you had your pottery and were doin' stoneware--now this wasn't--where was this pottery? Is that the one when your dad had it with Chrisco?

Joe Owen:

When they's out here.

Michelle A. Francis:

When you were out here he did. Okay.

Joe Owen:

Now, he made stoneware over yonder where I was tellin' you while ago. But when I made it, it was out here. I didn't, I might a helped a little, but I didn't concern myself over there. I wouldn't even say I helped because I didn't do anything.

Michelle A. Francis:

Who all around the neighborhood here, was makin' pottery when you were? Stoneware? Were there a lot of potters?

Joe Owen:

Well, they was few. Not too many makin' stoneware. They was few. I'd say there were, uh, four, five.

Michelle A. Francis:

Four, five. Who were some of them?

Joe Owen:

Well, let me see. Craven. Craven, Daniel Craven.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. Daniel Craven.

Joe Owen:

And Henry Chrisco. W.H. Chrisco, I believe was that name. He was makin' pottery. And then we's makin' and that was just three. And I believe maybe that Richardson over yonder was makin' some. Linville Richardson. He's dead now. That'd be four. And I don't know, there might a been some of the Teagues makin' it back then. I'd say four or five or six, somethin' like that.

Michelle A. Francis:

How, how did you price?

Joe Owen:

By the gallon.

Michelle A. Francis:

By the gallon? What were you sellin' it for?




Joe Owen:

Cheap.

Michelle A. Francis:

I bet!

Joe Owen:

'Round 10 cents a gallon.

Michelle A. Francis:

Ten cents a gallon. Was there a lot of competition between the other potters?

Joe Owen:

Well, there's. . .

Michelle A. Francis:

For prices?

Joe Owen:

Well, no. Not too much. There's always a little competition, but not 'nough on pots just to bother with. It's all somewhere about the same.

Michelle A. Francis:

How did you get your customers? The people that came up here to buy and resell? Did they just hear about you, or?

Joe Owen:

Well, you see, there was people back then, way back then, now I'm talkin' about back, from the wagon days. I'm not talkin' about when the trucks and. We sold some with trucks and all of that. But they would come and tell you what to make and then they'd come and load their wagons and carry it off and go to the stores, the hardware stores and department stores--where ever they sold it, you know. And seed stores and all. And they'd find what they wanted the next trip and come back and tell you and you'd make it for 'em and then they'd go back again. And that's the way it was then.

Michelle A. Francis:

Did you stay busy all the time, or did you have to do something else like farming?

Joe Owen:

Well, we farmed some.

Michelle A. Francis:

You farmed some?

Joe Owen:

Yes. We farmed.

Michelle A. Francis:

What'd you grow? Were you farming corn, wheat?

Joe Owen:

Oh, wheat, corn, and your garden potatoes and all that stuff. Cane syrup, you made all that in your home. Always have all of your truck patches including your corn and wheat.

Michelle A. Francis:

You knew you were going to sell some of that?

Joe Owen:

Naw. We didn't sell. We just raised stuff to eat.

Michelle A. Francis:

Just to eat. So the pottery pretty well paid for itself.




Joe Owen:

Yeah.

Michelle A. Francis:

Supported you and the people that were workin' for you.

Joe Owen:

What?

Michelle A. Francis:

It was able, you were able to make a livin' and pay the people.

Joe Owen:

Well, yeah, we was able to live. Course it wasn't a lot of money a'floatin' back in those days like there is now.

Overa Leach Owen:

Joe, did make and send in the wagon or was that your daddy?

Joe Owen:

I's workin'. . .

Overa Leach Owen:

That's your daddy.

Joe Owen:

. . .daddy. But I was a'workin' with him. Certainly. Yeah. Yeah. And then I made some and sold on a[unintelligible] truck.

Overa Leach Owen:

I know you did.

Joe Owen:

It sounded like whenever I told her how old I was, she said she didn't think I was.

Michelle A. Francis:

I didn't. I didn't think you were 73.

Joe Owen:

I don't mean, now--we, uh, that's one I told you about, you know. That was back when I was helpin' make pottery, he was a'turnin' and then he sold it to the ones who hauled it away.

Michelle A. Francis:

Hauled it away. Let me make sure I've got all this straight. You, when you started your pottery out here, you made stoneware.

Joe Owen:

Yeah.

Michelle A. Francis:

And then you started makin' art pottery?

Joe Owen:

Yes, yes.

Michelle A. Francis:

What, 'bout what year was that? The art pottery? Do you remember? Just, you know, approximate.

Joe Owen:

I'd say it's in the '40s.

Michelle A. Francis:

Was it before the war?




Joe Owen:

What?

Overa Leach Owen:

We got married in '40, so it was '30,. . .

Joe Owen:

Yeah, I tell you, it must have been the late, let's see, '30, yeah.

Overa Leach Owen:

'32.

Joe Owen:

I guess it was, yeah. 'Bout in the '30s.

Overa Leach Owen:

Early '30s.

Michelle A. Francis:

Early '30s, you started?

Joe Owen:

Yeah, that's right.

Overa Leach Owen:

Ever since I knew him he was makin' glazed pottery.

Joe Owen:

I guess it was in the '30s. It was up in the late '30s.

Michelle A. Francis:

You used different kinds of glazes then, didn't you, when you started makin' art? Tell me something about the glazes.

Joe Owen:

Well, I tell you when they made pottery back then, they used a lot of lead glazes, which you know, they. . .

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. Don't use that now.

Joe Owen:

. . .get away from that. You'd buy your materials and mix your own glazes.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum.

Joe Owen:

That's what I done.

Michelle A. Francis:

Did you experiment, or did you have a formula?

Joe Owen:

Yeah. You had to experiment. You'd experiment you out a formula and then you'd mix your glaze and work it out. If it was lackin' a little somethin' you had to change it. You'd work it out and get you a glaze like you wanted.

Michelle A. Francis:

What kind of glazes did you have that were special to you, back then?

Joe Owen:

Well, we had the earthenware glaze and I had the, uh, salt glaze. You could use, uh, different types of art pottery. Then I had two or three other glazes. I've even, just like that you [unintelligible].

Michelle A. Francis:

Do you have a red glaze? .Lot of potters I find had a red.




Joe Owen:

We used to make a, it's not what they call a real red, it's what they call a "chrome red". They don't make it any more. We had to use lead to make it.

Michelle A. Francis:

How did you do it?

Joe Owen:

Well, you had to buy you a stain that went in, they put it in, mix it in with this color and, you know, you'd screen it all up together to get the color. But the red like they're makin' now, I've made on a different glaze. Yes, I've made some of that. I've got some red glaze now.

Michelle A. Francis:

That "chrome red", what kind of temperature did you fire it at? Was that a low fire?

Joe Owen:

A low temperature.

Michelle A. Francis:

'Bout what temperature? Do you remember?

Joe Owen:

Oh, I'd say about, uh, 1600 degrees. If you got it too hot it would turn the color of it.

Michelle A. Francis:

Just real low.

Joe Owen:

It turn black, you know.

Michelle A. Francis:

Really?

Joe Owen:

Yeah.

Michelle A. Francis:

So you couldn't keep it in there too long.

Joe Owen:

No, you had to burn it, uh, it'd run. If you'd get it just right, it'd be right pretty, odd-lookin' red.

Michelle A. Francis:

Well, did you have to do like then, a whole kiln-load of red? Or could you. . .

Joe Owen:

No, we put in part of a kiln and,. . .

Michelle A. Francis:

Where. . .?

Joe Owen:

Like, you had groundhog kilns.

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah.

Joe Owen:

We call 'em. You know what they are?

Michelle A. Francis:

I know what they are.

Joe Owen:

Put your red up here and you put your other glaze on down in the kiln. Fire it with wood.

Michelle A. Francis:

So you put it the furthest away from the fire.




Joe Owen:

Yeah. So it wouldn't, so the time we got this other burnt, we'd just about get that right. Arid, if you put it way down in the kiln, it'll get too hot.

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah. That's interesting. Where did you get your clays?

Joe Owen:

Locally.

Michelle A. Francis:

Locally? Did you, how often, like the stoneware, the salt glaze, you used stoneware. Was it on land that you owned or did you. . .?

Joe Owen:

Well, no, we, uh, we got the most of our stoneware clay, we'd go off an get it from other potters and we'd buy it from them. It was cheap. It didn't cost you much. There was a big vein of clay up around above Seagrove, called the Auman's clay pond. And you'd get clay from there. There was this pretty blue where they'd get salt glaze. And we used to get some from other places, too, and mix with it. Mix two or three clays together.

Michelle A. Francis:

How often did you go to get clay?

Joe Owen:

Oh, we would have to get up clay about twice a year. Get enough to last through the winter in the fall.

Michelle A. Francis:

You'd bring it back and you'd have to. . .?

Joe Owen:

. . .go through mixin' it.

Michelle A. Francis:

Let it dry out?

Joe Owen:

Well, you'd bring it back and have your bins to put it in and then you'd wet it. It was dry when you get it. Then you wet it up and chop it up good and then you, you had these old-timey pug wheels with the horse to grind it. You ever see one?

Michelle A. Francis:

I've seen photographs of a lot.

Joe Owen:

Well, you hook the horse to and you had pugs in the augerings. And it had pegs in there and ground that up. And then when you got ready to take it out, you dumped the bottom out, pulled it out and stopped your mule or horse, whatever you had, and take it out and then you'd fill it up again. That's the way you done it.

Michelle A. Francis:

You don't by any chance, still have one of those old pug mills?

Joe Owen:

No.

Michelle A. Francis:

No? There're all gone?




Joe Owen:

'There's one at Jugtown, but they don't, I don't think they ever use it. It's just used for show.

Michelle A. Francis:

For show. Mm-hum. What about your earthenware? Where did you go to get that?

Joe Owen:

We'd get it locally, too. We'd get it different places.

Michelle A. Francis:

At the Aumans have a place?

Joe Owen:

No, we didn't get it there. There used to be a clay pond back up here in Randolph County we'd get some and I've got it from different places.

Michelle A. Francis:

Did you ever just go out lookin' for clay for yourself?

Joe Owen:

Oh, yeah.

Michelle A. Francis:

How do you go about doin' that?

Joe Owen:

Well, you take a auger or a shovel or mattocks and then if you seen a little sign of clay and then bored at it.

Michelle A. Francis:

What do you look for? Tell me what, like if I was goin' out and lookin' in the woods or in a field, what would I look for?

Joe Owen:

Well, if you know what clay is to start with, you look for, well a low, flat place maybe where you seen a little place where's spewed up out of the ground where it's wet or somethin', might give you a sign. You see, look back there till you see a ditch over there, a little sign of somethin' stickin' on there, then you go in there and then poke a hole and find it right there.

Michelle A. Francis:

You just take the auger and bring it on up.

Joe Owen:

One time they run into some clay where they's a'haulin' wood. And it was in the wintertime and the wheel, this feller haulin' his wood, way down, cut down deep, and when it come back up, had a little piece of clay on it. And, we found there was clay there and dug for it.

Michelle A. Francis:

Now there's different kinds of clays.

Joe Owen:

Oh yeah, sure. ,

Michelle A. Francis:

How can you tell if it's good clay?

Joe Owen:

Well, you have to experiment. You get three or four kinds, and it works better if you work three or four kinds together, and then work them. And you just get it and, uh, work it up and see how it works on the wheel and then, see how it burns out.




Michelle A. Francis:

If you were out, you know, lookin' for clay, out in the field lookin' for a clay pond and you bring up a sample--can you tell whether it's gonna be worth diggin' for that?

Joe Owen:

Not till you try it.

Michelle A. Francis:

Not until you try it. So you really sort of gotta bring home a bucket-full.

Joe Owen:

Yeah, get you a. . .

Overa Leach Owen:

You can tell pretty good.

Joe Owen:

You cain't tell whether it's gonna work or not.

Overa Leach Owen:

I mean you can tell if it's. . .

Joe Owen:

Oh, you can tell if it's plastic, but you certainly cain't tell--I seen clay that was just. . .

Michelle A. Francis:

How can you tell if it's plastic?

Overa Leach Owen:

You can tell by takin' it and put water with it.

Joe Owen:

Put water on it and work it up and then, you can tell if it might, whether it will turn, but that sure won't tell you whether it'll work or not. I've seen clays that turn good, put it in the kiln, crack all to pieces.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. Crack all to pieces.

Joe Owen:

You just have to try it out.

Michelle A. Francis:

So, what would you add? If you got you a piece of clay, I mean a bunch of clay that turns good but cracks, what would you add to it?

Joe Owen:

Well, I'd give you another clay or add some feldspar or mix two or three clays together is a good way. Or get you a little--it depends on what you're gonna make out of it. If you're gonna make large pieces, you can get you a little, uh, bit of coarse shale and put in there. Just a little bit, you know, like a brick clay, or somethin'. If you're gonna make this other, you'd want that in it. You just blend clays together.

Michelle A. Francis:

So, the large pieces take a different kind of clay?

Joe Owen:

Yeah. Sure.

Michelle A. Francis:

You have to have that feldspar or something rough in there?




Joe Owen:

You got to have something in there so it won't crack and if you got a clay that's too tight and not porous enough, I call it, it will maybe turn good and then you put it in the kiln and it'll crack.

Michelle A. Francis:

Crack. How did you get interested in turning big pieces? You kind of like to do that.

Joe Owen:

Well, we's makin' churns, you know.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. When was this?

Joe Owen:

Oh, it was back, when we was makin' salt glazes, and I got to makin' some of them. And then when we got to makin' on this other one, you always, you know, you got a Rebecca pitcher, that's all you know, and you start makin' on that, well somebody wants one a little larger and you, first thing you know, you're makin' 'em large.

Michelle A. Francis:

You know what the largest piece you ever made was?

Joe Owen:

Yes, I do.

Michelle A. Francis:

Tell me about it.

Joe Owen:

Well, I made one that held 14 gallons. I made it.

Michelle A. Francis:

14 gallons! Goodness. Was it, what was it?

Joe Owen:

It was a big urn.

Michelle A. Francis:

A big urn.

Joe Owen:

Unglazed.

Michelle A. Francis:

Unglazed.

Joe Owen:

I made it for a feller in furniture. Run a furniture in Raleigh. He wanted to make one just as large as I could make it and not glaze it. And he wanted to paint it and he wanted to fill it up full of sand and make a hole in the side of it and set it out in his yard and just have it there. And so he's set there for years. And he's been dead several years. I never did [unintelligible]. Probably got broke or 'somethin'.

Michelle A. Francis:

When did you make that? Do you remember?

Joe Owen:

Oh, back I guess in the, '30s, I believe. Might have been the '40s.

Michelle A. Francis:

Do you remember that piece?

Joe Owen:

No, she don't.




Overa Leach Owen:

Before we's married. We got married in 1940.

Joe Owen:

I don't know. That was back in the '30s.

Overa Leach Owen:

He wasn't no amateur when we married. He'd been makin' pottery for years.

Joe Owen:

I was, uh, 29 years old.

Overa Leach Owen:

I just figured in there when you made that piece [unintelligible], 1933.

Joe Owen:

And, that was the largest thing. I just thought I'd see what it would do.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum.

Joe Owen:

It was 14 gallons.

Michelle A. Francis:

That must have been pretty big.

Joe Owen:

Oh, it was.

Michelle A. Francis:

What would that be--14 gallons--how tall would that be?

Joe Owen:

Well, it's pretty tall. I made it tall, I didn't make [unintelligible]. It was, oh, I don't know exactly how tall.

Michelle A. Francis:

'Bout 2 feet?

Joe Owen:

Like about, yeah.

Michelle A. Francis:

24 inches?

Joe Owen:

'Spect it, oh yeah, maybe a little more than that. 'Spect it was 26.

Overa Leach Owen:

Turned it 3 sections.

Joe Owen:

Turned in 3 sections.

Michelle A. Francis:

3 sections.

Joe Owen:

Well, have you ever seen anybody make a large piece?

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-mum. Not a really large piece.

Joe Owen:

You see, you turn your top first.

Michelle A. Francis:

Ah-huh.

Joe Owen:

You turn, we called 'em caps, turned 'em, set it up, for so many pounds. And then we turned the other piece. And you grooved it at the top and set your cap in there. And of course




if you're makin' it a big whopper of a thing, you can make one, if you had two wheels, I don't know how large you can make one. They'd sit over night and keep on with it. That's too much trouble [unintelligible].

Michelle A. Francis:

No.

Joe Owen:

You had to go three times, there'd be little short caps [unintelligible] when you're doin' it.

Michelle A. Francis:

Dorothy was tellin' me, and I don't know how long, I think this was in the '40s, about they got a little competition among some of the potters to see who could do the biggest piece, or the largest urn. Do you remember that?

Overa Leach Owen:

No.

Joe Owen:

I don't know- if I ever seen it, [unintelligible]. I done forgot.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. That's okay. You may not have been involved.

Joe Owen:

She said it was to see who could make the largest?

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum.

Overa Leach Owen:

Now see, Joe would have been the winner, and we would have remembered.

Michelle A. Francis:

That's right. (Laughter)

Joe Owen:

I just don't remember that. Might a'been. I don't remember that.

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah. It was just sort of, it might have been among the Coles, that the competition was. I'll have to go and ask her.

Joe Owen:

I tell you, you cain't just remember everything that's happened.

Michelle A. Francis:

Dorothy was tellin' about some local person here, I think her name's Laurie Moore, that just had a kiln blow up.

Joe Owen:

Oh, yeah. Right down here. I hear him tell that's uh, [unintelligible].

Michelle A. Francis:

Has that ever happened to you?

Joe Owen:

No. I never had, I pulled a lot of 'em, never had one to blow up. What'd happened is, uh, you get too much, uh, he got too much goin' in there and nothin' comin' out, you know. You got a burner, a gas burner, you've got a lot of fumes and everything goin' in there and you get a certain amount of steam that you could be raw, or it could be anything that's dry. And




if you ain't got a suction to pull that out, it can build up and blow the top out.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum.

Joe Owen:

We had one to fall down one time and it burned on the groundhog kiln.

Michelle A. Francis:

It fell?

Joe Owen:

It didn't blow up, it just fell in.

Michelle A. Francis:

What caused that?

Joe Owen:

Too light, the top of it was.

Michelle A. Francis:

Just didn't have it built right?

Joe Owen:

That's right. It's just too light. And when it'd get hot it'd expand and go up. And then it done that. And when it come down, it went up too high and then it come down, and it fell in. I throwed a bunch of salt in there on the small pieces and there's several pieces all right.

Michelle A. Francis:

Really? You didn't lose the whole load then?

Joe Owen:

No, not all of it. Hm-um. A lot of it was small pieces, one or two of 'em.

Michelle A. Francis:

Did you make any little brown jugs for whiskey?

Joe Owen:

I made some brown jugs, but they wasn't just for whiskey. I made 'em for honey.

Overa Leach Owen:

Lot of people bought 'em for whatever they wanted 'em.

Michelle A. Francis:

There were a lot of people around here, I understood, that made it for moonshine.

Joe Owen:

Well, that was, I tell you when, that was way back before I ever was.

Michelle A. Francis:

Before you were doin' much.

Joe Owen:

They used to do that. They had, uh, they used to run some of their water, uh, pottery wheels on water. That was way back. I heard tell about makin' whiskey jugs.

Michelle A. Francis:

Run by, say that again?

Joe Owen:

Well, water-powered. Water-powered.

Michelle A. Francis:

They powered their wheels?

Joe Owen:

You know, there wasn't no electricity then, they had a water




wheel and they could pick up shafts and extend it on up here and run their wheels.

Michelle A. Francis:

Ha. I didn't know that.

Joe Owen:

I think that was back when the government was, you know, when whiskey was they'd buy these jugs. But that was not in my day.

Michelle A. Francis:

That's not somethin' you were involved with.

Joe Owen:

That's before me.

Michelle A. Francis:

Let's see. I had a couple of other things I wanted to ask. Tell me somethin' about, well, Dorothy was tellin' me that you all bought carloads of ball clay in Kentucky one time.

Joe Owen:

Yeah. We did.

Michelle A. Francis:

And there's somethin' peculiar about it, or somethin'. Was it a different color? She was sayin' how you could see a piece today and identify it, identify it by that clay.

Joe Owen:

Well, it was, uh, we bought it from Mayfield, Kentucky.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mayfield.

Joe Owen:

We bought a carload, which is around a [unintelligible] which was about 40,000 pounds.

Michelle A. Francis:

Was it like a train carload?

Joe Owen:

Well, that was a train car. That's what it was. Uh, but it was just a ball clay. We used it for makin' pottery. It was clay that was so hard-burnin' it leave the other clay from shrinkin'. I don't know what the unusual part was.

Overa Leach Owen:

Oh, you really did like it.

Joe Owen:

Yeah. It was. . .

Overa Leach Owen:

Pretty unusual colors.

Michelle A. Francis:

What?

Joe Owen:

It was a blue clay but it made. . .

Michelle A. Francis:

It was stoneware?

Joe Owen:

It would a'made a pretty stoneware. We didn't use it for stoneware. Well, we used some for slip glaze, but not for stoneware. I mean, salt glaze. We'd makin' some pieces. But it would make salt glaze, 'cause I had tried. Used to be a little pitcher you'd [unintelligible].




Overa Leach Owen:

Well, I don't want to hunt it. I don't know where it is.

Joe Owen:

Well, I ain't gonna hunt it, I just. . .

Overa Leach Owen:

I don't know which one it is.

Joe Owen:

Well, maybe next time we'll [unintelligible].

Michelle A. Francis:

What made it work good? What made it so that you liked it better?

Joe Owen:

Well, it was just, uh, I don't know why really. It was, well it.

Overa Leach Owen:

It didn't have a lot of gravels.

Joe Owen:

It didn't have anything, didn't have anything in it. And it was, uh, just some good clay. Come out of a real deep pit of clay where they sold a lot of clay.

Michelle A. Francis:

What possessed you to buy?

Joe Owen:

What?

Michelle A. Francis:

What possessed you to buy a carload of clay all the way from Kentucky?

Joe Owen:

Well, you could get it cheaper.

Michelle A. Francis:

Get it cheaper than buyin' it here?

Overa Leach Owen:

He buys a lot of clay in [unintelligible] now.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum.

Joe Owen:

You'd get it cheaper if you just bought, uh, two, three tons, wouldn't cost you a lot.

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah, but I mean, how come Kentucky? Why, why. . .

Joe Owen:

Well, because we just knowed. . .

Overa Leach Owen:

Heard about it.

Michelle A. Francis:

Heard about it?

Joe Owen:

Like Tennessee's got a good clay. Georgia's got some good clay. Kentucky ball's good. Kentucky's got other clays. New Jersey's got clay. You know.

Michelle A. Francis:

You just wanted to experiment with somethin' new, then? Somethin' you hadn't tried.




Joe Owen:

Anybody that's got good clays, yeah.

Michelle A. Francis:

Tell me somethin', didn't you work for, um, work with Glenn Art Pottery?

Joe Owen:

Yes. Oh yes.

Michelle A. Francis:

When did that start up?

Joe Owen:

Gosh, when was. . .

Michelle A. Francis:

Glenn Art.

Overa Leach Owen:

Hard to go into details, but I'd say 19 and, 1945.

Joe Owen:

Yeah. I guess it was.

Michelle A. Francis:

1945.

Joe Owen:

Along in there.

Michelle A. Francis:

What kind of pieces did they turn out?

Joe Owen:

Well, we made some, uh, art vases of different kinds, from little on up, and we made flower pots, we made churns, we made just different kinds of things. The flower pots, they last [unintelligible]. They got [unintelligible], but they quit 'em. You know, the plastic and everything, comin' out with that, you couldn't, you couldn't get what you [unintelligible].

Overa Leach Owen:

They didn't make them by hand, they pressed 'em.

Joe Owen:

They pressed, pressed 'em.

Michelle A. Francis:

They made pressed pots?

Joe Owen:

Put them out of machines. Like greenhouses use, you know, you've seen 'em. That sort of thing.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. What did you do for them?

Joe Owen:

Well, I just done a little of all of it. I, I guess I've had the rest a'workin' for me.

Michelle A. Francis:

Beg your pardon.

Joe Owen:

They was a'workin' for me.

Michelle A. Francis:

They were workin' for you then?

Joe Owen:

Yeah.

Michelle A. Francis:

Ah! I had it wrong then, didn't I?




Joe Owen:

And I worked, too, but, uh, I can do, I turned some for them, yeah. [unintelligible]

Michelle A. Francis:

So you were still turning you own stuff?

Joe Owen:

I turned some of the unglazed, you know. You remember those old wash, I don't know whether you've ever seen 'em, those wash pots they made, they'd hold a quarter up to two gallons, got three legs on 'em, and they use some of 'em in stands, and we made a lot of them.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. Yes. I remember those.

Joe Owen:

I used to make a little planter. Harwood made the mold over there, where you went over there to see his. He had a little press, we made that on a press and we'd sell it to Winter Gardens in Florida. They put little plants in ' em .

Michelle A. Francis:

Is that that little planter that looks like a log?

Joe Owen:

Yeah. .

Michelle A. Francis:

He was telling me that you didn't glaze it most of the time.

Joe Owen:

No, we didn't. We dipped it in a paraffin. No, we didn't glaze it. He used to make a lot of 'em. He'd call 'em canoes--those long ones. But he started a mold and whenever he finished, then I took it and had it cut down and finished and when we, uh, it was, uh, oh I don't know, something like this.

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah.

Joe Owen:

And as wide as, well, he made--did you see what he had?

Michelle A. Francis:

What he had looked like it was about. . .

Joe Owen:

Yeah, yeah.

Michelle A. Francis:

. . .that wide. 'Bout as big around as my arm. Was about what it was.

Joe Owen:

That's about what it was.

Michelle A. Francis:

And it wasn't very wide.

Joe Owen:

But the one we made--well we made some of them, too, didn't we? Made some of them, too. [unintelligible]

Overa Leach Owen:

And them little jars and them little dishes, you know.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum.

Overa Leach Owen:

They'd come get big truck loads from Winter Garden, had their greenhouse. Then they'd sell 'em.




Michelle A. Francis:

Did you, did you stay here during World War II, or did you go in the service?

Joe Owen:

No, I stayed here.

Michelle A. Francis:

You stayed here? How was business during, during the war?

Joe Owen:

Well, it wasn't too good. Everything was, you know, oil, you couldn't get oil, you know. And the oil was scarce in the.

Michelle A. Francis:

That's what you were using for burning in the kiln?

Joe Owen:

Well, I wasn't usin', uh, not at that time.

Michelle A. Francis:

Were you still using the groundhog kiln, in the '40s?

Joe Owen:

I used the ground--I used, let's see, that was in, no, in the '40s I used oil up yonder.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum.

Joe Owen:

In the '40s. But out here, I used oil out here. You see, I made pottery out here first.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum.

Joe Owen:

Several years ago before we made any over there.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum.

Joe Owen:

Then I went up to Williamsburg worked for a feller a little while.

Michelle A. Francis:

You did?

Joe Owen:

He wanted me to show him how to make pottery. Yeah. Well, Williams--you ever been to Williamsburg?

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah! Sure have.

Joe Owen:

It's not far, from. . .

Michelle A. Francis:

What was his name?

Joe Owen:

Griesner. Paul Griesner.

Michelle A. Francis:

Griesner.

Joe Owen:

Yeah.

Michelle A. Francis:

And he was, was he a production potter?




Joe Owen:

No. I tell ya, he made hand-made brick.

Michelle A. Francis:

Hand-made brick!

Joe Owen:

Hand-made brick. And he sold them. And he had a kiln there and he's always experimenting and he came down here huntin' somebody to go up there and just stay with him a little while and see if he could, uh, make some pottery. He come to see another feller where he thought he's gonna get and he couldn't get him. And I went up there and stayed a few months.

Michelle A. Francis:

Stayed a few months with him. Were you married that time?

Joe Owen:

No.

Overa Leach Owen:

No.

Michelle A. Francis:

And you just taught him how to make pots?

Joe Owen:

Well no, we didn't teach him how, we just made for him and he wanted us to stay on, but I told him that, you know when we went up there and seemed like he's, he could do a lot of experimentin' and he could a'sold pottery good, but he, he never knowed how to get it out. So I come back and went to workin' for myself.

Michelle A. Francis:

Did you go up there by yourself?

Joe Owen:

My brother went with me.

Michelle A. Francis:

Which one?

Joe Owen:

Charlie.

Michelle A. Francis:

Charlie went up?

Joe Owen:

Yeah.

Michelle A. Francis:

Did you bring back any of those pots? What ever happened to those pots that you did while you were up there?

Joe Owen:

No, I didn't bring back, I think my sister's got one little piece that I give her at Seagrove that I made. Well, you see, I didn't bring back any. I just then, you know, I didn't think anything about that. Had plenty of it back home, you know.

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah. So that was before you were married. That would have been.

Joe Owen:

Well that was back in the. . .




Overa Leach Owen:

Oh, '32.

Joe Owen:

'30s. I had a '30 model Chevrolet, and it was 'bout probably a year or so old.

Michelle A. Francis:

Somewhere around there. Well, did you have to do anything else during--back to 1940s, during the war when business wasn't so good?

Joe Owen:

No.

Michelle A. Francis:

Just kind of waited it out?

Joe Owen:

Uh-huh.

Michelle A. Francis:

Who was helpin' you back then?

Joe Owen:

Oh, my dad was workin' and my brothers.

Michelle A. Francis:

So your dad was--did he give up his own pottery and start workin' with you?

Joe Owen:

Well, when we was out here you know, we all worked out here.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. Okay.

Overa Leach Owen:

But it as Joe's when we went to work out here. He didn't work for his father. He worked for Joe.

Michelle A. Francis:

Okay. That's what I meant.

Joe Owen:

He did for a while, when he first put it up, it was his and then he just let me take it. . .

Overa Leach Owen:

Yes, that's what I said.

Joe Owen:

. . .so we changed around. We had three kilns there.

Michelle A. Francis:

You had three kilns goin'?

Joe Owen:

Three, yeah, three.

Michelle A. Francis:

How many, how often would you burn a kiln? Once a week?

Joe Owen:

Well you, no. You'd burn one probably, burn about three or four, three kilns a week I'd say.

Michelle A. Francis:

Three a week. That kept you pretty busy.

Joe Owen:

Well, we stayed busy.




Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah. So there was you and your dad. . .

Joe Owen:

I ain't never had, come to a place I didn't have nothin' much to do. Always had too much to do.

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah. Too much. Still got too much to do, don't ya?

Joe Owen:

Still got too much to do.

Michelle A. Francis:

Who did the dippin'?

Joe Owen:

I did.

Michelle A. Francis:

And you did, and you mixed the glazes, too? So you did all of it just about.

Joe Owen:

Well, I done [unintelligible] and I used to do all the tradin'.

Michelle A. Francis:

Did you have anybody else helpin' you besides your brother and, and, Charlie?

Joe Owen:

I had some boys, I hired some boys helpin' me along, you know, [unintelligible] a few weeks.

Michelle A. Francis:

Any other turners?

Joe Owen:

Yeah. I had two or three that turned some for me.

Michelle A. Francis:

Who were they?

Joe Owen:

Well, I believe, didn't I tell you a minute ago about Cole and Craven and. . .

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah. You did. And Chrisco, was Chrisco one?

Joe Owen:

No. Cole and Craven and, I've uh, and Melvin Owens' brother Jody. He turned some for me one time. Now I've had two or three others, uh, turn some outside and go and pick it up.

Michelle A. Francis:

After, after the war, did things pick up a little bit? After World War II?

Joe Owen:

Yeah, yeah. After everything got settled down.

Michelle A. Francis:

What kind of forms were you makin', and shapes? Were you still doin', you were doin' big things still?

Joe Owen:

Well, I just made a variety of shapes. I made some, I'd make some little sugar bowl pitchers, the little what-nots stuff on up to the big Rebecca pitchers.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. Was there something. . .




Joe Owen:

And I'd make some big urns that be somethin' similar to that thing over yonder, got links on the side.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. Was there somethin' that was more popular than others?

Joe Owen:

Yeah, some of 'em were.

Michelle A. Francis:

What were they? What were your most popular shapes?

Joe Owen:

Well I guess the popularest shape was the Rebecca pitcher.

Overa Leach Owen:

That we've ever made. You know where the Rebecca pitcher got its name whenever it got started?

Michelle A. Francis:

No. I didn't know where it got its name. Tell me.

Joe Owen:

Well, it got started in the Bible.

Michelle A. Francis:

In the Bible?

Joe Owen:

You know, Rebecca at the well.

Overa Leach Owen:

You know, in old Bibles you'll see, it's a tree and a well and there's a pitcher, and that's what we call a Rebecca pitcher.

Joe Owen:

And I used to make a lot of candle saucers and candle holders, we'd make ashtrays, sugar bowls, cream dishes and just different kind of vases, what we call, a lot of 'em had names.

Overa Leach Owen:

Oh, little baskets, just like we make. . .

Joe Owen:

Lot of vase [unintelligible] and things like that."

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum. Was there anything about your pots, course your Rebecca pitcher was probably one of 'em but, that made it, that you could easily identify as something that you did?

Joe Owen:

Well, most of the time you can identify your own work. Sometimes you might have to look on 'em.

Michelle A. Francis:

Well, like if I was goin' out to a sale somewhere, and I was wantin' to buy, lookin' for a piece of your work, what would I look for, do you think?

Joe Owen:

Oh, it'd be hard for me to say.

Overa Leach Owen:

Oh it's--you can't tell one potter's from another if they're turned nice.




Joe Owen:

It'd just be hard, it'd be hard. You can, but I tell you how it is. It'd be hard for me to tell you what to look for, I'll tell you. But you say Kiser told you somethin' about a handle.

Michelle A. Francis:

Yeah. His handle, he put his thumb down on it.

Joe Owen:

Well, I do that, too. I put my thumb down on it, and some make a--we used to make vases and put two handles on 'em, and then you'd take your thumb and mash the handle in like that.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum.

Joe Owen:

They'd call 'em "thumb prints".

Michelle A. Francis:

Thumb prints.

Joe Owen:

Yeah. And, uh, we made, uh, we put split handles on 'em.

Michelle A. Francis:

Mm-hum.

Joe Owen:

Split handles come like that, on down the side, they call them "drug jars". See they always had a name for some of 'em.

Michelle A. Francis:

I think we've done enough for tonight.

(End Tape)

Title
Francis, Michelle A., Oral Interview: Joe and Overa Leach Owen, May 17, 1983 CE
Description
Michelle A. Francis' interview with Joe and Overa Leach Owen. Mr. Owen is a North Carolina potter from a family of potters, the son of Rufus Owen. They discuss working in the pottery shop, what types of shapes have been popular through the years, and business arrangements. Mr. Owen describes in detail the methods they used for locating and digging clay, and what kinds of clay were shipped in from neighboring states.
Date
March 17, 1983
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.
http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/InC-EDU/1.0/

Know Something About This Item?


*
*
*
Comment Policy