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  • Bridging Voice and IdentityChris Luther's Bridge Bowl and the Seagrove Tradition
  • Trista Reis Porter (bio)

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Made in Seagrove, North Carolina, by fourth-generation potter Chris Luther, the Bridge Bowl tells the familiar story of this particular place in the Piedmont and the landscape, people, traditions, and ideas that animate it. At the same time, it speaks of globalization, the increasing circulation of ideas and images around the world, and their ever-evolving manifestations in the American South. All photos by Joseph Decosimo.

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Just as the most iconic or familiar of things have the capacity to complicate and contradict what we know of southern life, unpredictable things can exemplify both paradoxical and iconic realities. This is the story of Chris Luther's Bridge Bowl, an unexpected southern thing, both a container and a bridge itself. Made in Seagrove, North Carolina, by a fourth-generation potter, the Bridge Bowl tells the familiar story of this particular place in the Piedmont and the landscape, people, traditions, and ideas that animate it. At the same time, it speaks of globalization, the increasing circulation of ideas and images around the world, and their ever-evolving manifestations in the American South.1

An inventive example of southern material culture, the Bridge Bowl disrupts some of the assumptions that haunt southern things and powerfully connects a multitude of southern voices, aesthetics, and ideologies, as well as the places they intersect. By illuminating these voices, whether they be deeply rooted or transient, the Bridge Bowl offers a more expansive understanding of southern identity, with all its tensions and contradictions intact.

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The Bridge Bowl occurred to Chris Luther by chance. In his attempts to throw and form an oval-shaped pot, the center rose when stretched, and after trimming the clay to even it out, he ended up with a misshapen pot with a subtle arch and sides shorter than the center. Unhappy with this result, he resolved to instead exaggerate the shape by curving the entire bowl into a bridge. After making adjustments to the bottom and sides over several iterations of the Bridge Bowl, Luther still doesn't believe he has perfected it: "But you know how some things you just can't give up? I guess that's one of my many Achilles' heels." In this way, the Bridge Bowl exists in a space between Luther's idea and its tangible expression. He scrapped most of its predecessors; one sits on his mother-in-law's kitchen table holding African violets, but the most successful remaining Bridge Bowl stands on a shelf in his studio, continually reminding Luther of its unfinished state and open-endedness.2

The construction of the Bridge Bowl reflects continuity and cultural transmission of the historical tradition in which Luther was trained, while the ideological process behind the work reveals the dynamism and invention of his practice and that of others in the contemporary Seagrove community. As a child, Luther accompanied his mother and grandmother on visits to potteries in the Seagrove area. He recalls playing with clay as a five-year-old and seeing experts turn pot after pot. He began throwing pottery after returning home from college to find a studio set up by his mother in their basement. After two weeks of her encouragement, he tried his hand at the wheel and has been "addicted ever since." In discussing his lineage and immediate enchantment with pottery, Luther explains, "They say [End Page 71]


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"They say it's in your blood." Luther's grandfather was a potter, and his great-grandfather, W. H. Crisco, was particularly prominent as one of the first salt glaze potters in the region.

[End Page 72] it's in your blood." Luther's grandfather was a potter, and his great-grandfather, W. H. Crisco, was particularly prominent as one of the first salt glaze potters in the region. After Luther's initial experimentation at the pottery wheel, he joined his mother in classes at Randolph Community College, where he found mentors in former production potters Bob Armfield and Archie Teague. Drawing from years of experience...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 70-78
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-31
Open Access
No
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