Potter Brant Barnes learned his art more than thirty years ago in the mountains of Western North Carolina. He is joined by his wife Karen and daughter Zan in making pottery in traditional and contemporary glazes and styles at Riverwood Pottery, which has been a popular shop and studio in Dillsboro’s Riverwood crafts neighborhood for more than a decade. Brant’s pottery takes many forms, but he leans towards functional table wares, which he creates in many shapes familiar in North Carolina and Southern pottery, and in an array of beautiful glazes. “Just because it is ‘art’ doesn’t mean it can’t be used and enjoyed every day,” Brant has said. “Painting with fire” is a favorite phrase of his.
Karen Barnes too makes both wheel-thrown pots and hand-built pieces. Much of her work is in small, hand-built forms, particularly whimsies like ceramic creatures and decorative beads. The Barnes family is active in the local arts community. Brant is one of the organizers of the Western North Carolina Pottery Festival held in Dillsboro each November, and Riverwood Pottery has contributed hand-thrown bowls to local “empty bowl” fundraisers for Community Table.
Brant and Karen’s daughter Zan, a second-generation potter, has absorbed much of the stylistic influence of her parents and her region, but her work carries Southern tradition in new directions. Especially noteworthy are her face jugs, thrown and glazed in classic Carolina fashion, but with distinctive features and expressions. Some have punk hairstyles, and even nose and lip rings and ear studs. They are a striking combination of old and new, folk and pop, and a big dose of individual inspiration. When not working at the studio, Zan is a costume designer at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. Karen is also a musician and blues historian, and performs as “Sugar” Barnes.
Riverwood Pottery is open to the public in Dillsboro, and is both a working studio and a sales gallery. Members of the Barnes family will consider requests for demonstrations.