Their Love Story is the Glaze on a Successful Ceramics Empire

Rob and Beth Mangum were reluctant to start a pottery career. They needn’t have worried. Photo by Jack Sorokin

Rob Mangum first got clay under his fingernails in the 1970s while helping his parents with their business, Mangum Pottery of Turkey Knob, in the northwest corner of the state. “I grew up watching my parents struggle to get their business off the ground,” he says. So when it came time for college — at North Carolina State University’s School of Design (now the College of Art & Design) — he went with graphics and illustration, not ceramics. It was there, as a sophomore in 1984, that he began dating Beth, a freshman who was studying fibers and surface design.

Following graduation, Rob got a job cutting out numbers for football jerseys. It was mind-numbing, though, so he returned to working with clay. Meanwhile, Beth was making fanny packs in a studio collective in the same building as Rob’s studio.

“Since he had just started and was working all the time to make his business a success, ‘dates’ with him ended up being hanging out with him in his studio,” remembers Beth. Instead of just watching, she started helping, and before long was throwing her own pots on the wheel. Their partnership — both personal and business — blossomed. They established their own pottery studio in 1989 and got married a year later.

The sculptors make everything from mugs to tile to clocks. Photo by Jack Sorokin

The Mangums moved to Indiana for Rob to pursue a graduate degree, but having been introduced to Asheville by selling their pottery at Bele Chere, the couple decided to head south after he graduated. They rented their current location and eventually purchased it from their landlord. “We recently celebrated our investment by going solar,” reveals Beth. Rob adds, “Asheville’s regional craft scene and the old-time-music connection are what led us here.” An accomplished fiddler, he learned at age 10 and currently plays with The Barsters.

Photo by Jack Sorokin

Rob and Beth are a tight knit-team. Their responsibilities at Mangum Pottery have remained pretty much the same over the years. He handles the slab building, sculpture, decorative vases, and oversees production management. She makes wheel-thrown pottery, does surface decoration, and manages the business side of things. (Their two daughters, Leah and Page, are also artists.)

Life in Weaverville is all about “freedom and joy,” says Beth. Their glazed stoneware bowls and platters are rimmed with polka dots and stripes or other, semi-abstract flourishes — a spiral, a curling fern, a folkloric butterfly. The couple crafts everything from tiles to mugs to heirloom grandfather clocks. Their new series of heron sculptures use a classic vessel shape to create serious whimsy — the birds also testify to the couple’s many outdoor pursuits. “Enjoying life,” says Rob, “keeps us loving what we do.

Mangum Pottery, 16 N. Main St., Weaverville. 888-288-2112, mangumpottery.com. Rob and Beth helped develop the Weaverville Art Safari, a self-guided driving event. This year’s Spring Studio Tour happens 10am-5pm Saturday, April 28 and Sunday, April 29. For more information, see weavervilleartsafari.com.

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