Published Oct 28, 2015
Collecting ceramics is more than just owning beautiful objects. It is also about gathering stories, following an artist’s growth, and fueling one’s intellectual curiosity. Dwight Holland, co-founder of the North Carolina Potter’s Conference, has quite a collection: literally thousands and thousands of pots.
In today’s post, an excerpt from the Ceramics Monthly archive, Dwight shares how his collection has grown over the years, and his plans to donate it to Eastern Carolina University as a teaching tool for students. - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor
P.S. Don’t miss out on reading the entire article, which includes Holland’s background and introduction to ceramics and explains how his collection began, in the October 2015 issue of Ceramics Monthly.
After graduating from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in August 1954 I took a job as the art teacher for the schools in Asheboro, North Carolina, teaching art from the first grade through high school. Once I started teaching, I heard about the potteries in Seagrove and I went to explore the shops and meet the potters. Many of my afternoons after school were spent watching the potters work and listening to them talk about pots. This is when I bought my first pots and started my journey into collecting ceramics. It has been an adventure that has taken me almost around the world, into studios and galleries to meet potters and scholars.
Function and Use
I have a different understanding of the word “use” with my pots. Most of my collection is complied of pots that are functional or have some possibilities of being used. I do not drink hot tea but own a few hundred teapots. Purists may think it is wrong for me to buy pots and make them “shelf pots.” For me, function can be enjoying the form, color, or the presence of the pot. I do not have to physically use it.
I do have pots that I use daily, including my cereal bowls and coffee mugs that were made by Daniel Johnston. I have also used plates made at a pottery in Laurel Bloomery, Tennessee for years. Other pieces are used as needed. Then there are pots that I do not use, often work that cannot be replaced.
I think about what would happen to potters if only pots that are used were sold. There would be a lot fewer potters working. I often think of a statement made by my sculpture professor, who said he made work to remove aesthetic boredom. I am never bored surrounded by pots.
A Teaching Collection
In 1997, I started thinking of what I might do with the pots. Years ago, I remembered teaching interior design students about good design when they only knew Sears and Roebuck. I thought of students making pots when they had never touched a great pot. From this, the idea of the Dwight M. Holland Ceramics Teaching Collection was born. I have known the Art and Design School at East Carolina University for over 50 years and have watched the ceramic program grow. I felt the program had stability and longevity, so I made the university an offer to give them my collection and all future pots added to it if they agreed to certain conditions.
The most important condition is that the collection would be a teaching collection and must be housed in or near the ceramics department. Students must have access to the collection and be able to handle and study the pots. The collection may be kept locked, but responsible students must know where the key is. The university agreed to my conditions and the Dwight M. Holland Ceramics Teaching Collection became a reality. With it, I believe I have met my responsibility to the potters who made the pots and to the pots themselves.
One of the most important results of my gift is that other collectors are now giving their collections to universities with the same conditions.
It is a challenge to collectors who would like to see the pieces they have purchased remain together and be used. Make arrangements or plans now so that you can give them to your favorite college or university where they will continue to inspire and teach others.
Dwight Holland co-founded the North Carolina Potters Conference in 1987 and is retired from his position as the Curator of Design and Planner of the North Carolina Zoological Park.