Arts & Culture
5:03 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

'My Father Told Me I Was Crazy As Hell' - Potter Sid Luck Wins NC Heritage Award

Pottery by Sid Luck
Credit Sid Luck

There's a potter in North Carolina who can trace his roots by the generations of family members who've spun clay.

Sid Luck's great-great-grandfather, William Henry Luck, began turning pots in Seagrove just after the Civil War. This week, five generations later, Sid Luck was awarded a North Carolina Heritage Award from the NC Arts Council for his work as a potter.

The craft has both changed and stayed the same through the years. Early on, churns and jugs and crocks and pitchers were made primarily for function.

"Somebody had to provide vessels for the community to store their food in, prepare their food in," said Luck. "And the potters did it."

His great-great-grandfather made all kinds of items, including jugs designed to to store syrup and cider. Luck still has a piece of pottery his great-great-grandfather made - a cylinder that can hold a gallon-and-a-half of water. The piece is signed, which is unusual because many people could not read or write at the time.

Sid Luck, 2014
Credit NC Arts Council

Luck began making pottery when he was 10 years old.

"I was sort of forced into it," he said. Rather than spending time at the swimming hole, or on the ball field, Sid was in the shop. "My father put me right on the wheel. He would show me how to try to center [the clay] and I just took it from there. It's a long process to learn how to do that, but I was determined it was not gonna whip me."

He estimates he was churning out 200 ashtrays a day by the time he was 12.  He also mastered specialty items early on, like a dish specially designed to hold hot butter. (The dish had a handle, to make it easy to pass around the table.)

One of the hardest times for the family was keeping the tradition alive during the Great Depression. Sid's father was at the wheel then, trying to support his family.

"He said I've never done so much hard work for nothing in my life." But the business survived.

Leaving Pottery, and then Returning to It

Luck left his hometown to serve in the Marines. He went to college. He was a chemistry teacher for close to 20 years before returning to pottery fulltime.

"My father told me I was crazy as hell. He told me you'll starve to death, you're  wasting your education."

But Luck had a plan. He told his dad that his chemistry degree would come in handy, that he'd use it to work up specialty glazes, something that the family had not yet added to their pottery.

Credit Sid Luck

The Plan Worked

Luck's pottery is a local attraction. He likes to make buttermilk pitchers, churns and jugs. Sometimes he turns out 20 pitchers a day. Jugs are especially challenging to make, he says. Even now, 50 years in, he can still be challenged by a jug - the neck of it has to be just right.

When he's at the wheel, he sometimes thinks of his great-great-grandfather, William Henry, who was reputed to be a "real stickler" for making pieces smooth. The elder Luck did not want the pottery to have any trace of the fingers that guided the piece on the wheel.

Sid Luck's pottery today is renowned in the state because his work combines function and beauty.

"Pottery is something that I love doing. It's my passion. But I don't think I do anything that anybody needs. I do things that people want," he said. "Just taking that ball of mud and spinning it into a wonderful shape. That's still the most satisfying thing that I do."

Dick Gordon spoke to Sid Luck in 2008.