Don Craig was born in Wilkes County, but he spent most of his life on the Catawba-Lincoln County line where he learned pottery through his family’s tradition. In 1991, Don moved to Rutherford County and took up pottery as a full-time profession, carrying on the pottery tradition practiced by his father.
Burlon Craig, Don’s father, was one of the best known potters in the Catawba Valley tradition. He received a National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as a North Carolina Folk Heritage Award from the North Carolina Arts Council. Burlon was one of twelve children, the son of a preacher. He had to earn his own living from a young age, and he was presented with a challenge to try making pottery for money. He was a natural, starting at age fourteen and continuing until he died at age eighty-eight. His work has been featured in many exhibits, including the Smithsonian Institute.
As Burlon’s son, Don was surrounded by the pottery business all of his life. He started helping when he was a child. He learned how to dig clay, gather wood for the kiln, clean the kiln, carry wares to and from the shop, package pieces for shipping, and help with some glazing and making. “I went through an apprenticeship more or less even though it was the family business,” he said. Don established his own pottery in 1991 when he bought some land in Rutherford County and built a shop. He continued the family tradition in the use of clays and shapes, including face jugs, similar to those for which his father was known.
Don’s son, Dwayne also entered the pottery business around the same time that Don moved to Rutherford County. Dwayne lives on the old homeplace. While Don and Dwayne continued the family tradition, they also developed their own styles. Some of their work was more elaborate than Burlon Craig’s. Don created some sculptures in addition to more traditional pieces, and his sculptures were often whimsical, such as a humorous face jug, or a grotesque character with protruding eyes or tongue. Dwayne’s jugs often featured roosters or pheasants.
Don took great satisfaction in making his living as a potter. “I enjoy being my own man and making the pottery in my own time,” he explained. “I can work as I’m inspired to make it.” Don presented his work at a number of shows and festivals. He also organized an annual Burlon Craig Festival to celebrate his father’s pottery and the Catawba Valley pottery tradition.
Don Craig passed away on November 10, 2015 at the age of seventy.