Studio Tour: Joel Queen
photograph by Emily Chaplin and Chris Council

“Pottery was born into me,” Joel Queen says, and rightly so, with eight generations of Native American “coil-built” traditional pottery on his family tree. In a roadside studio near Cherokee, Queen uses only his fingers and a small amount of water — no potter’s wheel — to create thin-walled, patterned pieces, the same way his ancestors did, “hand-building” blue clay and engraving or stamping it with textured paddles he’s carved himself. Smooth quartz stones and even Mason jar lids are his polishing tools, and when it’s time to fire the pot, it’s done outside in a “hot, fast fire” of hemlock wood. He recently sold the largest pot he — or any Cherokee — has ever made. The studio door frame had to come off to fire it.

Feature image, above: In addition to his own gallery in Whittier, Queen’s work has been displayed at the Smithsonian Institution, the British Museum, and Monticello.

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Susan Stafford Kelly was raised in Rutherfordton. She attended UNC-Chapel Hill and earned a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She is the author of Carolina Classics, a collection of essays that have appeared in Our State, and five novels: How Close We Come, Even Now, The Last of Something, Now You Know, and By Accident. Susan has three grown children and lives in Greensboro with her husband, Sterling.