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‘It’s where I need to be’

A retired pastor returns to pottery

Posted on January 10, 2022

Updated on January 15, 2022

Top newsLocal newsArts
Frank Grubbs' pottery wheel and kiln have followed him all over Eastern North Carolina.

Debbie Herrera | Johnstonian News

Frank Grubbs' pottery wheel and kiln have followed him all over Eastern North Carolina.

Grubbs signs all of his pieces.

Debbie Herrera | Johnstonian News

Grubbs signs all of his pieces.

Some of Grubbs' work is on display in his studio.

Debbie Herrera | Johnstonian News

Some of Grubbs' work is on display in his studio.

Grubbs makes an assortment of mugs, plates, bowls, urns and vases.

Debbie Herrera | Johnstonian News

Grubbs makes an assortment of mugs, plates, bowls, urns and vases.

Frank Grubbs' pottery wheel and kiln have followed him all over Eastern North Carolina.

Debbie Herrera | Johnstonian News

Frank Grubbs' pottery wheel and kiln have followed him all over Eastern North Carolina.

Grubbs signs all of his pieces.

Debbie Herrera | Johnstonian News

Grubbs signs all of his pieces.

Grubbs signs all of his pieces.
Some of Grubbs' work is on display in his studio.
Grubbs makes an assortment of mugs, plates, bowls, urns and vases.
Frank Grubbs' pottery wheel and kiln have followed him all over Eastern North Carolina.

dherrera@johnstoniannews.com | 919-284-2295

SMITHFIELD — Frank Grubbs’ path to becoming a self-taught potter began in his youth.

As a boy in Duplin County, he would dig clay from a creek bank near his home and turn it into toys and other figures, which he dried in the sun.

“I enjoy the feel of clay,” Grubbs said.

In elementary school, he had a teacher who understood how he learned best. “I had a wonderful teacher in the fifth grade who saw each student individually and would bring out of us our unique way of learning,” Grubbs said. “She saw me as art and taught me history, math and everything through art.”

As a senior at what is now Barton College, Grubbs took a ceramics class. “We had a field trip to Dan Finch’s pottery in Bailey, and from that visit, I knew this was something I was going to be doing,” he said.

“I took that one course, but I am a self-taught potter,” Grubbs said. “The professor we had took a no-hands-on approach and said, ‘Here’s the equipment, and here’s the studio; figure it out.’ And that’s what we did.”

Before he became a potter, Grubbs had other jobs. “I was a minister, a wildlife technician; I have done a little bit of everything,” he said.

But mostly, Grubbs was a minister — for 45 years in all, including more than two decades as pastor of Selma Original Free Will Baptist Church.

Still, pottery remained an important part of his life, Grubbs said. “The first money I saved when I got out of college was to purchase a wheel, then save some more to purchase a kiln,” he recalled. “I have that kiln, and it still works. I got it in the late ’70s, and it was my first one.”

Grubbs had his first studio in Pink Hill in his native Duplin County, where the pottery he made served a practical purpose. “Since I was a minister, this was a way of supplementing my income from time to time, and the pottery equipment just followed me all over Eastern North Carolina,” he said.

These days, Grubbs teaches pottery at Mount Olive University, a job that grew out of an art show he did with John Williams, a fellow pastor who turns wood.

“We had a very successful show, and from there, folks from the university started asking questions,” Grubbs said,

“They did not have a ceramics department, but they needed one because they wanted to offer a degree in art education,” he explained. “Without ceramics, you can’t get that degree.”

The university turned to him for advice.

“They invited me to come and said, ‘Here’s a space. What would you do with it?’ ” Grubbs recalled. “I got a little bit of architectural work in my background, so I drew a scale model of the studio, and they built it.”

Grubbs remembers visiting the university one day to check on the studio’s progress. “As they were building it, they invited me back to the space to see and said, ‘We would like you to teach,’ ” he said. “To that, I said, ‘I don’t have a degree to teach.’ And they said, ‘We all have a degree, but we don’t know how to teach it, but you know how.’ ”

Today, Grubbs teaches two classes — an introduction to ceramics and advanced techniques. “They want me to develop a sculpture class in ceramics,” he said of university leaders. “It will be introduced to the committee this spring, and I hope it will be offered in the fall.”

When he’s not teaching, Grubbs makes what he calls functional pottery — mugs, plates, vases and urns. “I enjoy making things that people can use,” he said.

Grubbs gives each piece his full attention. “I am not going to rush through making a piece,” he said. “One thing I tell my students is if you pay attention to detail, you have a better chance of selling. Whereas if you don’t, people will just pick it up and set it back down.”

Though he has been fashioning things from clay for almost as long as he can remember, Grubbs was always reluctant to call himself a potter. “It has only been in the last 10 to 12 years that I felt comfortable saying I am a potter,” he said. “It was always a hobby or something I liked to dabble in. It was occasional, it was sporadic, and I could never put much time into it as I wanted to because it demanded all my time.”

Now, Grubbs relishes the process of making pottery. “It’s where I need to be,” he said. “If you are where you need to be and enjoy what you are doing, I think all is well.”

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