Artist and Residence

Mark and Carol Hewitt built a famed pottery studio and a home
on their Pittsboro property

By Matt White  |  Photography by Briana Brough

When Carol Hewitt and her husband Mark moved from New England to the end of Johnny Burke Road in 1983, they came for two reasons – and both involved dirt.

“It was dirt cheap,” Carol says. “That’s all we could afford.”

But, more importantly, the Hewitts came to Pittsboro for the rich, thick clay found in Carolina Piedmont soil – the very dirt beneath Chatham’s feet. The region’s clay is known around the world as the perfect base ingredient for artistic pottery. “Most of the clay we have in this area is red because its high in iron,” says Mark. “There are pockets with less iron that is gray or tan colored and is good for stoneware. It’s not so common.”

The spot they chose to build a studio, a business and a home was one of several parcels of what had once been a 75-acre farm along a long-abandoned carriage road connecting Pittsboro to Raleigh. A line of trees on the farm’s northern border still marks the way. An original barn, a chicken coop and the house that was to become their home were still standing. Carol – who is a co-founder of Slow Money NC, a lender to small food businesses – remembers with a laugh that an arts writer who came to visit in the early years called it “a slightly ramshackle yellow house.”

In the years since, with Mark’s artistic reputation in ascent, the Hewitts reassembled and transformed the property. Today, Mark is in the vanguard of the Seagrove pottery tradition, a small-but-humming community of pottery artists, hugging a geological seam of rich, muddy clay deposited over eons by shifting rivers and hills. Many learned the trade in Mark’s workshop as apprentices. Mark’s most distinctive works – larger-than-life pots sometimes standing five feet – are displayed in museums around the world, and the Hewitts have shipped pieces to customers as far off as the Middle East.

As Mark built his studio, the Hewitts raised two daughters, Meg and Emma, both of whom now live in New York, close to where Mark and Carol met in Connecticut. They’ve refitted the house and added on a two-wall bay window and deck. From their living room, they can take in the restored, postcard-perfect spread of meadows and thickets, a pond that draws migrating birds and a canopy of pecan trees over the driveway.

The chicken coops now house the walk-in kilns, which they fire with oak and yellow pine. The rest of the property is energy neutral, with solar arrays and other sustainable sources powering the home and workshop.

The barn is now a showroom where, three times a year, the Hewitts host a “kiln opening” sale. After months of crafting up to 1,500 pots and vases, Mark bakes them together for almost a week, raising the oven temperatures to nearly 2,400 degrees over the last few hours to produce the hazy, liquid-like, salt-base glaze that covers each piece.

Many of the customers who arrive down the willow-covered drive are now old friends. Others come from Iowa, Maryland or New England.

“People come from far and wide to see what Mark has made,” Carol says.  CM

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