Emerson Creek Pottery offers customers a chance to own a piece of their American heritage

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By Tom Wilmoth

At one time, the Bedford County property that now is home to Emerson Creek Pottery was a 500-acre land grant from the King of England.

Now that property serves as the creation and distribution spot for Emerson Creek's growing nationally recognized pottery business.

Since 1977 Emerson Creek Pottery has been offering to its customers the American heritage of handmade, hand painted pottery. The business was recently recognized by the U.S. Local Business Association for its work.

“We're real happy to get that,” said Jim Leavitt, one of Emerson Creek's founders.

Most of Emerson Creek's pottery has floral patterns that are hand painted. “That's our niche,” Leavitt said. “We do all the work right here.”

The original pottery is first cast, usually by Leavitt himself, and that form is then used as a mold to produce the pottery sold. Each piece is individually painted by hand. “Each one's a work of art,” Leavitt said.

Emerson Creek sells its pottery wholesale to some 250 gift stores and small garden centers all over the country. On site at its Bedford County location is an outlet store, located in a log cabin. That cabin was built in 1825 by Silas Wade who acquired the land and built the two room, two story structure. That log cabin has been restored inside to house the popular outlet store. It has its original log walls, fireplace and three double-barrel chimneys.

“We get a lot of tourists who come in,” Leavitt said of the outlet store.

The Internet has also added to the success of Emerson Creek Pottery. “That's been a big help to us,” Leavitt said, noting that three years ago a couple from California offered to redo the site for him. “They've done a fabulous job,” he said.

Emerson Creek Pottery mixes all of its clay and glazes. Leavitt casts the original hand made patterns that are used for the pottery that is reproduced.

Though he has a degree in photography, Leavitt became interested in pottery “because it's more functional.”

“We've always made functional, everyday pottery,” he said. Emerson Creek, which has 10 employees, comes out with several new patterns each year.

“We have to retire patterns when they become less popular,” he said, adding many times ideas for new patterns come from the customers themselves. In fact, just recently, a store that sells Emerson Creek's pottery exclusively asked for him to come up with a brie baker. “It's really become popular,” he said of that idea.

The USLBA “Best of Local Business” honor pleased Leavitt. The award program recognizes local businesses throughout the country each year that have achieved marketing success and that enhance the positive image of small businesses through their service to the customers and community.

Leavitt, originally from Roanoke, moved to the county from up north. “I had wanted to move back to this area,” he said. “It's a pretty site.”

Influenced by the energy of the Early American cobalt decoration, Leavitt and Priscilla Palmer founded the business 32 years ago. Palmer developed the unique technique of applying natural pigments to an absorbent glaze with a Japanese Sumi-e brush. The spontaneity of the brush stroke, combined with the accuracy of design yields Emerson Creek's distinctively recognizable style.

The ceramic pottery has been featured at Monticello, Mt. Vernon and the Smithsonian Institute and Emerson Creek has designed customized patterns for numerous clubs and organizations. Each piece is hand made, hand painted and fired in a gas kiln. Each pattern is a series of carefully planned strokes and no templates or stencils are used. The patterns are practiced and committed to memory. Each piece is alike, but unique. Currently Emerson Creek Pottery is featuring 14 different lines of ceramic pottery, including its signature line, Field of Iris, a classic since it opened.

Emerson Creek Pottery takes pride in the fact that “you know that you are purchasing a little piece of history which will surely add the quality of timeless beauty to your home.”

Leavitt enjoys the opportunity to work with his hands while applying that craftsmanship to the pottery. “It's a cross between an art studio and a factory,” Leavitt said of the business. “I try to listen to customers. If they have an idea that sounds like it's practical (I'll do it). I try to keep people happy.”

Emerson Creek Pottery is an easy 10 minute drive from Bedford, 30 minutes from Lynchburg or Smith Mountain Lake, and 45 minutes from Roanoke. It's located at 1068 Pottery Lane, Bedford, off of Pecks Rd (Rt. 725) between Rt. 43 and Rt. 714. For more informaiton call 40-297-7884 or visit the Web site at www.emersoncreekpottery.com