A Unique Touch: Pincu Pottery combines nature, art
About halfway between Bryson City and the Nantahala Outdoor Center, a small, unassuming building sits alongside the road. The structure is only a stone’s throw from the bustling intersection of U.S. 64 and N.C. 28, and inside Elise Willa Pincu Delfield is at her potter’s wheel, silently spinning magic.
“For me, it’s the idea of creating something with my hands, something beautiful and functional,” she said. “It’s a pretty amazing thing, for anyone, to take a lump of clay and make something useful of it.”
Owner of Pincu Pottery, Delfield has spent the majority of her adult life taking endless piles of clay and turning them into works of art. Her colorful pieces not only appease the eye, but also get taken off the shelf, felt and used, all in an effort to enjoy and immerse oneself in the playfulness of Delfield’s vision.
“It’s about creating art that is personal and touchable, not something large that just sits there and gathers dust,” she said. “When someone opens up their cupboard and picks up one of my pots or mugs, I want them to be happy. I want them to feel the piece, coddle it, run their hands and fingers around it, feeling the different textures of the clay and glaze.”
Using the ancient landscape of Southern Appalachia as her inspiration, Delfield looks to the colors and the rebirth nature of spring as the main focus of her creations. Within her hands, she molds the clay, making indents and lines that represent the rolling Great Smoky Mountains, where wave after wave of ridgelines appear. She paints each piece with a watercolor technique, which is where the mountainous shapes, flowers, creatures and butterflies are added. Once placed into the kiln, they are fired at up to 2,100 degrees upon completion.
“Nature plays a large role in my inspiration for both design and decoration of the pottery,” her mission statement reads. “I’m primarily inspired by my natural environment, which includes a rich, red clay dirt and lush, green mountains that bloom with color in spring. These colors and patterns roll around in my memory, synthesize and are drawn out over the clay.”
And yet, all of this creativity and drive all originated from one single moment in Delfield’s life. While a student at the University of Florida, she had aspirations to either be a veterinarian or engineer. During one semester, Delfield found herself fed up with a calculus class. Nothing seemed to fit. So, she dropped the class, and found herself at the Student Union, signing up for a ceramics class, all by chance.
“I always wanted to try ceramics, so I took the class,” she reminisced. “And that first moment I touched and worked with clay was the be all, end all for me. I fell in love with clay and knew this was what I wanted to do.”
Delfield then ventured down a path she never knew existed beforehand. She has delved into pottery, from purchasing and perusing other artists’ work to studying and researching techniques new and old to apply to her own work. It’s a daily state of being that comes with years of determination and practice, a rabbit hole of beauty and discovery that lies solely in the creative spirit.
“It’s a challenge. I wanted to master clay, and I’m still learning new things each and everyday,” Delfield said. “Everybody has that creative spark within them. When I found mine, I became passionate about something. I look at historic pots, contemporary pots, drawing ideas that pop into my head — the more and more creative things around you, the more you and your art grows.”
Alongside her studio and show schedule around the Southeast, Delfield also teaches pottery at Southwestern Community College. The campus is a hop, skip and jump from Pincu, where she teaches all ages, from college students and adults through the school year, to children during the summer.
“We had a world-class surgeon in one class and he was truly ‘humbled by clay,’” Delfield chuckled. “And I like being able to share my love of pottery with others. I like that if I’m able to teach them, then maybe perhaps they’ll appreciate it more, to know how difficult and intricate the process can be, and know what to look for and notice when observing other artists’ works.”
As a potter and collector, Delfield takes great pride in supporting independent artisans, where handmade will always mean more compared to mass-produced.
“I wake up every morning and open my cupboard. Every piece has a different shape, style and story, and I decide ‘who’ I’m going to have coffee with this morning,” she said. “I remember each person who made each piece. I remember my time with them or a memory attached to each piece.”
Heading over to her potter’s wheel, Delfield slaps down a lump of clay. Trickling several drops of waters onto the material, she cranks up the wheel and the show begins. Her fingers dance around the clay, pushing it up and down. Delfield is entranced in the process, where her eyes never leave the clay, her fingers never once letting go of the moment that resides within her hands. In a matter of minutes, a large cylindrical shape emerges, soon to be brought into this world as an eccentric, picturesque piece of art.
“I spend every living, breathing moment of my life thinking about pottery or making pottery,” Delfield said. “It’s my passion.”
Editor’s Note: Pincu Pottery will be one of the numerous artists onsite at the Western North Carolina Pottery Festival on Nov. 7 in Dillsboro.
Dillsboro festival celebrates pottery
The 11th Western North Carolina Pottery Festival will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7, in downtown Dillsboro.
More than 40 highly skilled ceramic artists will be throwing pots and demonstrating their techniques from booths located along Front Street. Now in its 11th year, the festival remains true to its original mission of allowing the public to interact with potters and learn more about their craft.
All festival attendees receive a ticket for a daylong raffle, while a silent auction benefits a local charity that provides meals to needy families. The 7th annual WNC Clay Olympics competition runs from 1 to 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, in downtown Dillsboro.
Admission is $5 per person, with children under 12 admitted free.
828.631.5100 or 828.586.3601 or www.wncpotteryfestival.com.