By: Margaret Butler
November is a busy time for Brad Dodson, potter and owner of Mud Dabbers Pottery & Crafts II, located in Balsam, just outside of Waynesville. He’s preparing for the store’s biggest event of the year: the Christmas open house, where holiday shoppers sip hot cider from handmade ceramic cups — which they get to keep — and are treated to an assortment of homemade cookies.
Mud Dabbers II’s dedicated customer base — many of whom “don’t start their Christmas until they come here” — eagerly await the festivities. “One lady told us she has 18 cups, one for each grandchild,” Dodson notes. This December marks the location’s 25th year of ringing in the holiday season with handcrafted and wheel-thrown pottery.
Leading up to December, Dodson easily spends 8-10 hours a day preparing for the open house, which draws shoppers from as far as Highlands and even the Atlanta area. During the interview with Asheville Made, Dodson was crafting a goat for the popular nativity scenes sold in the store. “I hope to make 10 goats today, get started on the donkeys, and make a dozen more tomorrow,” he comments. Once the open house begins on December 1, the store will be decked out with clay snowmen, Christmas trees, ornaments, nativity pieces, and his speciality, gnomes.
As a potter, Dodson gravitates toward whimsical pieces and enjoys the niche. His gnomes — especially — lend themselves well to the winter season. “After it slows down [from the open house], I spend a lot of time crafting my gnomes,” Dodson says. The potter “grew up working with clay,” and while he didn’t originally plan to take on the family trade, he quickly found himself back on the wheel.
Mud Dabbers has been a family affair since Brad’s father opened the original Brevard storefront in 1988. Today, Brad’s brother John simultaneously maintains the holiday tradition in Brevard. The name “Mud Dabbers” was inspired by dirt daubers, who build their nests out of the same colorful clay historically used by the Dodson family for their pottery. Most of the pottery sold is stamped with the original Mud Dabbers logo.
The beloved holiday tradition has grown quite a bit since it started. “When the open house began, Dad made around 70 cups. This year, we’ve got over 500 at this location. We tell customers that they’re available while supplies last. We will run out,” Dodson says. “It’s a small gesture to give back to our customers, and a tradition we plan to keep.”
Mud Dabbers’ Pottery & Crafts II’s annual Christmas open house runs Dec. 1-4 (Thursday and Friday from 10am-6pm and Saturday and Sunday from 12-6pm.) Guests will be able to choose a handcrafted ceramic cup while supplies last. 20767 Great Smoky Mountains Expy., Waynesville. See “Mud Dabbers Pottery & Crafts II” on Facebook for more information.