[caption id="attachment_148922" align="alignright" width="214"] Julie Wiggins is a big believer in the power of handmade.[/caption] Imagine a set of porcelain, blue and white. Likely, you picture elegant china,
Imagine a set of porcelain, blue and white. Likely, you picture elegant china, the kind that’s tucked away in a hutch until a fancy occasion and special company beckon them to the table.
As a kid, Julie Wiggins always wanted to know what these pieces of porcelain felt like, to see how they looked up close. She hated being told, No, these are too special to hold.
To Wiggins, no moment is more special than now— even if this moment finds you in your pajamas, clutching your morning tea or bleary-eyed after a long day. She feels that these occasions deserve porcelain that feels good in your hand and appeals to your eye — that honors the most special moment, Now, and celebrates the most special guest, You.
“I think we do these objects an injustice by not using them every day,” she says.
This is why Wiggins makes another kind of fine, blue-and-white porcelain. Her pieces are meant for daily use — even, and perhaps especially, during our most ordinary moments. She learned to create these pieces by studying ceramics all over the world, in China, Morocco, Spain. Yet they’re also love letters to the beauty and textures of home.
“I draw from the nature and the landscapes of North Carolina,” Wiggins says. “I grew up on the Intracoastal Waterway, and I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t at the beach. Sand is one of my first texture memories. I draw from a lot of that — the landscape, the birds, the egrets. I draw from all of them. I didn’t know that all of these animals and landscapes from my childhood would make such an impact on the things that I make today.”
Her teapot, the winner of Our State’s Made in NC Award for Craft, is an especially beloved piece. Look closely, and you’ll read her life story.
You’ll find the seven treasures of Buddhism in the repeating textural pattern within each petal, inspired by Wiggins’s time in China spent studying ceramics in traditional Ming Dynasty studios. You’ll see the blue of the Carolina coast in the colors of the petals and lid. You’ll see her background as a dancer in the precise alignment of the spout, lid, and handle — an arabesque in porcelain — which allows the piece to pour perfectly without drips.
This piece, uniquely Wiggins, is a personal one. It’s also her favorite one to make.
“I love the connection of the teapot to history,” she says. “You can find the teapot in almost every culture. It was the way that people came together midday to discuss the day or to banter back and forth, whether they were the Chinese men playing mah-jongg in the little bodega or the women in Britain having high tea.”
Until recently, Wiggins lived in Charlotte, in a home tucked into tall trees. There, she converted the full basement into a studio filled with kilns, drying racks, shelves holding porcelain pieces, and two cats, Trixie and Smokey, who expertly maneuvered around them. There was a flower garden out back, but Wiggins brought that inside, too; blooms inspire the designs that she draws on vases and mugs.
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Wiggins is a big believer in the power of handmade. To use a handmade piece encourages us to slow down, she says, to use objects as mindfully as they were created. Every pot and dish in Wiggins’s kitchen is handmade. If you visit for dinner, she’ll share stories about each of them. Each piece reminds her of its artist; each brings a bit of that person’s soul into her home. For her, ceramics aren’t just pretty objects. They’re opportunities to connect with the person who created them and to connect with others through conversations that these objects spark.
These connections became more important to Wiggins during the isolation of the pandemic. Sometimes when she felt lonely, she’d receive messages from people who told her that using her mugs or teapots provided joy during a hard time, and that using these pieces almost made them feel like they were sharing tea with her.
“My work is about connection,” Wiggins says. “Especially during Covid, I did a lot of research about the damage that can be done by not having that human connection. A 20-second hug can release a stressor cycle. I like to think that people will hold these objects for 20 seconds or more, and maybe that can happen then as well.”
North Carolina continues to pull her west. She’s moving to just outside Penland School of Craft. There, she’ll have a larger studio, a bigger garden, and even a showroom. And there, she’ll return to the place where she first studied ceramics at 19 years old, the place where she learned that art would become her life, the place “that blew my heart wide open,” she says. She’s eager to learn how the Blue Ridge will inspire her next pieces.
While her travels and her studies continue to take her around the world, North Carolina always calls her home.
“I had no idea I grew up in this most beautiful place,” she says. “And I grew up in a state that’s so rich in the history of ceramics. Our first pottery settlers were in the middle of the state in Seagrove in the mid-1700s, and people still travel from all over the world to come and buy objects that are made here. Anywhere you live in the state, people have a bit of an education and appreciation for ceramics, unlike other places. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
To learn more about Julie Wiggins Pottery, visit juliewigginspottery.com.