Early Saturday morning I picked up a friend and drove west on the 150/16/10 for about 45 minutes until we arrived at what would look to most people to be a very modest home with an old, rather odd-looking outbuilding.
The only sign that it might be more that just a quiet farm was the policeman helping people cross the street from the field where they had parked to enter renowned potter Kim Ellington’s front yard. As we turned the corner into the yard we could see them all.
From tiny bud vases to one large vase about 36″ tall, several hundred pieces of pottery were spread out on the lawn, tree stumps and folding tables.
Way back in the back were 6 face jugs and 3 snake jugs.The reason I point this out is that Kim Ellington very rarely makes these any more so buying one directly from him is nearly impossible.
During the next hour about 75 people, mostly serious collectors, quietly arrived and start circling around the yard whispering to each other, picking up the pottery for a closer look, and trying hard to hide their excitement about any one piece. It’s a bit like playing poker!.
About 10:00a.m. Kim Ellington made an announcement that he and his wife would each have a pot full of numbers from which we each were allowed to draw one. After everyone had a number (mine was 27 and my friend’s was 70), the entire group of us moved away from the pottery and Kim called out Number 1. The lucky drawer of number 1 quickly walked to his favorite piece and picked it up holding it tightly. Not one I wanted so I was still safe. Number 2. This young dentist who is ALWAYS lucky, chose my favorite face jug. As they got closer to 27 all of the face jugs and snake jugs were gone. Well, I consoled myself that I already had one of his face jugs and a snake jug which I had bought from a collector last year. My friend, who is a Catawba Valley pottery newbie, won a beautiful little vase for having the highest number.
There is absolutely no way to describe the excitement and unique experience of attending a Catawba Valley Kiln Sale. The system of drawing numbers came about when the Godfather of Catawba Valley Pottery, Burlon Craig, got so popular that when he dropped the rope to let people in his yard to buy his pots and face jugs people literally got trampled and pots were broken when two people grabbed for the same one. From that point on, he used this number-drawing system which today is still used by all of the more renowned Catawba Valley potters. I once met a writer who had traveled all the way from Indiana just to experience a Catawba Valley Kiln sale, not even to buy the pottery!
Don’t be surprised if you have never read about an upcoming kiln sale in Catawba Valley. While the more business-like potters do send out post cards to their mailing lists, I hear about many of them through word-of-mouth. So, if YOU want to find out about upcoming kiln sales, check the website CV Pottery.com or drop me a quick email and I will notify you as soon as I hear about the next one. Oh, by the way, my friend who won the vase but had vowed she would never buy a face or snake jug? She emailed after we got home asking me to let her know when the next sale was as she had a perfect place picked out for a few pieces of pottery; another collector is born!