Cathey Bolton’s hands are muddy as she chats with customers in her Waynesville gallery Art on Depot. They often tour the rainbow of mugs, bowls, and other functional pieces before they even notice she’s at work at the wheel. But when they do see — that’s her favorite part. It’s a moment she remembers from childhood, touring the historic potting village of Seagrove, North Carolina. It’s all about connection.
Because Bolton considers her pottery to be intimate objects, she’s adamant that her pieces look and feel as beautiful as they are useful. She loves “the thought of someone using my pieces every day or opening up a cabinet and saying, ‘that’s the mug I want to use because it feels good and it makes me feel good. And my coffee tastes better.’”
Bolton has been working with clay for more than two decades, since a high-school art class catapulted her into the North Carolina School of the Arts. Even when she moved about the country, she took along a kiln and sold pottery from one coast to the other. “I was making functional pieces, even in the tiny kiln,” she says. “I’d make little mugs, little ring dishes, and things like that.”
You just know when you’re holding a piece of her work. Bolton constantly refines her smooth edges and simple yet graceful forms. She’s keen to create a sense of movement with fluid glazes, adding a signature swirl at the bottom of mugs and bowls. Natural, playful patterns abound in other pieces — from Queen Anne’s Lace to sugar skulls to handles that evoke unfurling fern fronds.
To sustain a long career, Bolton innovates, working from feedback, imagining new products, and seeking new markets. “Customers say, ‘Do you make this? I’ve been looking for this.’ And then I can change things, or, if I’m not making it, I can make it.” Consequently, her pottery comes in 15 glazes, and she distributes her work to stores all along the East Coast.
In addition, she’s developed signature pieces aimed for high-end kitchen and gourmet stores rather than galleries. “The curly tops [her oil and vinegar vessels] and the garlic and ginger graters — if I hadn’t starting making those, eight or nine years ago, I probably wouldn’t be where I am now. They’re my main source of income,” she admits.
For instance, she designed her stackable WWBs — whiskey, wine, and bourbon tumblers — with distilleries in mind. But her customers find infinite uses for them, from children’s cups to nearly unbreakable vessels to take outdoors. Bolton’s jewelry, also in organic shapes and colors, tuck neatly into travelers’ suitcases and have been a staple of her business from the beginning.
This year, Bolton and her parents remodeled an old gas station that her great-grandfather opened in 1928. Not only will it become a new studio and gallery, but she’s also opened a new olive-oil store, combining her double passions of clay and cooking. Bolton is well versed in turning dreams into a livelihood.
Cathey Bolton, Art on Depot Studio & Gallery (250 Depot St., Waynesville, 828-246-0218) and Corner Station (136 Depot St., Waynesville, 828-246-6868). Bolton also sells at the French Broad Co-Op (90 Biltmore St., Asheville), the Haywood County Arts Council (86 North Main St., Waynesville), and at many other stores in surrounding states. For more information, see catheyboltondesignandclaywork.com.