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Nancy Sweezy

Oct. 14, 1921 - Feb. 6, 2010

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Potter Nancy Sweezy played an active role in preserving folk arts, including running the historic Jugtown Pottery in Seagrove, North Carolina, for several years. “What I'm concerned with is how the great traditional arts can be made relevant today,” she said. Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, photograph by Alan Govenar
Nancy Sweezy, Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, photograph by Alan Govenar
Nancy Sweezy (left) with Sybil May and daughter Lybess Sweezy in Manhattan, New York, May, 1955, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Sign for the first program presented by Country Roads Store in Harvard Square, sign designed by Jonathan Shahn, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1966, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy with students and apprentices at Jugtown, North Carolina, ca. early 1970s, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy in a glazing shed at Jugtown, North Carolina, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy glazing pots at Jugtown, North Carolina, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy turning jugs at Jugtown, North Carolina, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy in a potting shed, Jugtown, North Carolina, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Jugtown Pottery, North Carolina, ca. early 1970s, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy with Zedith Teague at Teague Pottery, Robbins, North Carolina, ca. early 1970s, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy with master potter Vernon Owens in Jugtown, North Carolina, ca. 1970s, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy examining pottery being removed from a kiln with apprentice Robert Coombs, Jugtown, North Carolina, ca. late 1970s, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy with Mark Hewitt at Mark's Pottery in Pittsboro, North Carolina, ca. early 1970s, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy participating in David Leach workshop, Jugtown Pottery, North Carolina, 1977, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy at Bybee Pottery in Kentucky, 1982, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy, Georgia, 1982, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy interviewing a potter in Alabama for her book *Raised in Clay*, 1982, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy with her daughter Martha Sweezy and Roberta Durham, Troutdale, Virginia, ca. mid-1980s, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy in her garden in Troutdale, Virginia, ca. mid-1980s, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy with daughter Martha Sweezy.  Troutdale, Virginia, ca. mid-1980s, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy with Robert Barron, director of the folk arts program of the New York State Council on the Arts and the son of a fellow artisan, National Endowment for the Arts site visit, Upstate New York, ca. mid-1980s, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy at a workshop at Gern Williams Pottery, Golfstown, New Hampshire, ca. mid-1980s, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy sitting on rocks outside grandfather's house in Rye, New Hampshire, ca. mid-1980s, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy in the Refugee Arts office Brighton, Massachusetts, ca. early 1990s, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy on her way to Scotland, 1993, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy with Adam Sharambegian after conferring about marketing in America, Arlington, Massachusetts, 1994, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy on a Los Angeles area beach, 1997, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy with her daughter Martha Sweezy in Arlington, Massachusetts, ca. late 1990s, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy with Lena Trausik in Wilton, New Hampshire for granddaughter's wedding, 1999, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy with a featured Japanese folklife potter at the Silk Road Festival, Washington D.C., 2002, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy with Bess Lomax Hawes at a memorial event for Ralph Rinzler, Highlander Folk School, New Market, Tennessee, courtesy Nancy Sweezy
Nancy Sweezy, 2006 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Strathmore Music Center, Bethesda, Maryland, chotograph by Michael G. Stewart

Flushing, New York, native Nancy Sweezy became interested in crafts when she saw pottery in a shop. She began buying and using coffee pots and cups. "I liked them because they were strong and sturdy and honest," she told NEA interviewer Mary Eckstein. Soon she enrolled in a pottery class. "As soon as I got my hands in clay, I said, 'Okay, this is what I want to do,'" she said. "And I did it from 1950 to when I stopped because my hands got arthritic."

While living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the late 1960s, Sweezy became involved in the folk music scene and met Ralph Rinzler, who was working for the Newport Folk Foundation, finding Southern musicians to bring to the Newport Folk Festival. She collaborated with him to bring craftspeople up from the South as well, to forge a larger cultural connection. Sweezy, Rinzler and Norman Kennedy, who later became a National Heritage fellow, established a nonprofit organization, Country Roads Inc. With unsold craft items from the festival, they started a Country Roads store in Cambridge. After the store closed, Sweezy took two long trips through the South with her daughters, visiting the people whose work she had been selling.

In 1968, Country Roads purchased the historic Jugtown Pottery in Seagrove, North Carolina, and Sweezy moved there to direct the operation. She established apprenticeship programs, developed new glazes to replace the prohibited traditional lead glazes and improved firing techniques to make the pottery more durable.

Sweezy remained in North Carolina until the early 1980s, when she sold the pottery business to Vernon Owens, who also became an NEA fellow. At Rinzler's request, she traveled throughout the South and Southwest, surveying and buying traditional potteries. Her research and photography led to the book Raised in Clay: The Southern Folk Pottery Tradition, published in 1984.

"I bought pots on the way and packed them up in chicken boxes, stuck them in the back of the station wagon and a little U-haul and drove back to Washington and unloaded them at the Smithsonian," she said. "That's not the way you carry around stuff that's going to be exhibited nowadays, but that's how we worked it then, and it was great and very inexpensive."

In 1985, Sweezy organized the Refugee Arts Group in Boston and through that organization administered festivals, workshops, exhibitions, apprenticeships and school programs focusing on Cambodian, Lao, Hmong and Vietnamese folk artists. In the 1990s, she began a study of Armenian folk crafts, resulting in another book, Armenian Folk Art, Culture, and Identity. In October 2005, with potter Mark Hewitt, she curated the exhibition "The Potter's Eye: Art and Tradition in North Carolina Pottery" at the North Carolina Museum of Art. She and Hewitt wrote the University of North Carolina Press book of the same title.

"What I'm concerned with is how the great traditional arts can be made relevant today," she said. "That's what these contemporary potters are doing in North Carolina. I think it's fabulous. … The most important thing is to get out in the field and meet with the people who are actually doing the work. I was often told by other folklorists that I shouldn't do what I was doing with Jugtown Pottery because I was having too much influence on the potters with my ideas. But I'll tell you, if I hadn't gone there, that place wouldn't have existed. So you have to take that kind of thing into account. You have to immerse yourself."

Bibliography
Sweezy, Nancy. Armenian Folk Arts, Culture, and Identity. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 2001.
_____. Raised in Clay: The Southern Pottery Tradition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.
_____ and Mark Hewitt. The Potter's Eye: Art and Tradition in North Carolina Pottery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

Watch

Nancy Sweezy interviewed by Nicholas R. Spitzer, 2006 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Strathmore Music Center, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Nancy Sweezy interviewed by Nicholas R. Spitzer, 2006 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Strathmore Music Center, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Listen

Nancy Sweezy answers the question 'How did you first start working with pottery?' Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, interview by Alan Govenar

Nancy Sweezy explains the importance of traditional arts in communities, Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, interview by Alan Govenar

Nancy Sweezy explains the struggles of early clay work, Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, interview by Alan Govenar

Nancy Sweezy answers the question 'What was it like touring the country interviewing potters for the Smithsonian museum?' Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, interview by Alan Govenar

Nancy Sweezy answers the question 'Why are crafts different than other arts?' Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, interview by Alan Govenar

Nancy Sweezy answers the question 'Why do we like the arts?' Bethesda, Maryland, 2006, interview by Alan Govenar