Potter Sarah Wells Rolland is a founding owner of The Village Potters Clay Center in Asheville’s River Arts District. She’s a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild and the Carolina Designer Craftsmen Guild, and her work is represented in prestigious galleries and permanent collections throughout the United States. Rolland wants to pay homage to the path blazed by the late John Orville Dodson, who established Mud Dabbers Pottery in Brevard in 1988, and made pottery well into his eighties, before he passed away earlier this year. Today, his sons operate Mud Dabbers locations in Brevard and Waynesville.
Was pottery love at first sight for you?
Yes, the smell of it, everything. When I came to Western North Carolina in the 1980s, I had never touched handmade pottery or seen clay in my life. When I experienced clay for the very first time, it was like everything else I had been doing was just a taste, but this was it. I knew it was going to be my life’s’ work.
How did Mud Dabbers and John O. Dodson figure into that?
John, Sr. and Mud Dabbers laid the groundwork for my success. It was people like John, Sr. who got up every day and made pots and sold them to their community, who got this market established. I give that family a lot of credit for a generational legacy. They’ve kept carrying the torch.
Do you recall the first time you visited Mud Dabbers?
Yes, it was warm and welcoming. There was a humble approach, the whole setup. I felt like I was stepping back into history, where sons did what their fathers did. John, Sr. provided for his family and sold everything he made right there in Brevard. He made pots day in, day out — straightforward utilitarian pots.
Pottery used to be sold in hardware stores, not art galleries.
Mud Dabbers is still a typical roadside shop. They aren’t downtown in a fancy gallery giving their pots special lighting like I do.
Did experiencing Mud Dabbers change your perspective?
In my family, you could be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a teacher. Those were honorable things. Pottery didn’t fit into that. It took about 10 years for my parents to accept it. But the Dodson sons were following their father’s path. In their family, that was a wonderful path, and that resonated with me.
Was the pottery itself a surprise?
I thought, “Oh my gosh! It’s just them and they are making all this?” It was crammed all the way to the ceiling, and they made so many different things. Seeing that widened the scope. I realized I could make anything I want.
So it was empowering and liberating?
Yes, and I make original work. But there is nothing original about how I make it. How it’s made is all traditional techniques. So I am honored I can do what I do and take a moment to honor the people who did it before me, making it possible to ride on their coattails.
Sarah Wells Rolland, The Village Potters, 191 Lyman St. #180, The River Arts District, Asheville, 828-253-2424, thevillagepotters.com. Mud Dabbers Pottery, 3623 Greenville Hwy., Brevard, 828-884-5131; and 20767 Great Smoky Mountains Expwy., Waynesville, 828-456-1916; muddabbers.com.