Survey and Research Report on the R.
Click Here To See Film Of R. F. Outen At
1. Name and location of
the property: The property known as the R. F. Outen Pottery is located at
430 Jefferson Street, Matthews, North Carolina.
Name and address of the current owner of the property:
Forest Lawn Drive
Matthews, NC 28105
3. Representative photographs of the
property. This report contains representative photographs of the
4. A map depicting the location of the property.
5. Current Deed Book Reference To The Property.
The most recent deed information for this property is found in Mecklenburg County Deed
The tax parcel number for the property is 22702313.
6. A Brief
Historical Essay On The Property. This report contains a brief
historical sketch of the property prepared by
7. A Brief Physical Description Of The Property.
This report contains a brief physical description of the property prepared
by Stewart Gray.
8. Documentation of why and
in what ways the property meets the criteria for designation set forth in
a. Special significance in
terms of its history, architecture, and/or cultural importance.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission judges that the
Outen Pottery possesses special significance in terms of
Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The Commission bases its judgment on the
1) The R. F. Outen Pottery is a
rare surviving example of a workshop and pottery that produced
utilitarian earthenware and stoneware for local use from local clays. This type of industry was common in the
Piedmont of North Carolina in the nineteenth century but nearly disappeared
as the twentieth century progressed.
2) The R. F. Outen Pottery is
important for its association with Rufus F. Outen (1905-1983), one of the
last traditionally-trained potters in North Carolina who continued to
produce utilitarian ware in the second half of the twentieth century.
3) The R. F. Outen Pottery is
significant as a rare surviving example of a twentieth-century workshop and
kiln in Mecklenburg County.
4) The R. F. Outen Pottery is
the most complete artifact of the pottery industry in Matthews, a town which
was a significant producer of pottery for much of the twentieth
b. Integrity of design,
setting, workmanship, materials, feeling and/or association:
The Commission judges that the physical description
included in this report demonstrates that the property known as the
R. F. Outen Pottery meets this criterion.
9. Ad Valorem Tax Appraisal:
The Commission is aware that designation would allow the owner to apply for
automatic deferral of 50% of the Ad Valorem taxes on all or any portion of
the property which becomes a designated “historic landmark”. The
current appraised value of the R. F. Outen Pottery is $137,000.
10. This report finds that the kiln, interior and
exterior of the workshop building, and approximately 1.119 acres of land associated with the
R. F. Outen Pottery should be included
in landmark designation of the property.
Date of preparation of this report:
December 1, 2011
by: Stewart Gray
Rufus Outen turning in 1968 at the R. F. Outen Pottery Company.
has been made for millennia in North Carolina. Members of the Catawba
Nation made pottery during the Woodland Period. With European settlement, the Piedmont with its
abundant clay became the center of pottery production in North
Carolina. Lead-glazed earthenware, a relatively fragile and potentially
toxic ware, dominated the early North Carolina pottery trade, much of it
produced by the Moravians. Only one early-19th-century Mecklenburg County
pottery has been documented. William Goodwin recorded an indenture for
his apprentice, seven year old Matthew Ormand, in 1802. (Perry: 3,
During the nineteenth century
stoneware largely replaced earthenware in North Carolina.
Stoneware is vitrified (takes on a very hard, inert, glass-like state) and
is thus stronger, more durable, and not porous. Stoneware requires a
higher temperature fire (around 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit versus 1,800 for
earthenware.) And whereas the clay required for earthenware could be found
close to the surface, stoneware clay required deeper excavations. The
earliest stoneware in North Carolina was imported from England and New
England. But stoneware began to be produced in large numbers in North
Carolina during the first half of the nineteenth century. Early North Carolina stoneware is divided into salt
glaze and alkaline glaze. Salt glazing requires that salt be poured
into the kiln when the kiln has reached its highest temperatures. The
extreme heat vaporizes the salt which fuses with the clay forming a
hard glaze. Salt glaze production dominated the eastern part of the state
(where salt was more abundant) and was concentrated in Moore and Randolph
counties. In the Catawba Valley near Vale, Daniel Seagle began
producing alkaline glazed pottery in the 1830s. This glaze is made up
of wood ash, water, and clay and is applied to the pottery before being fired.
Alkaline glazed stoneware dominated the state from Charlotte to the west.
Salt or Alkaline glazed, the production of the pottery was virtually the
same. Clay was dug by hand. It had to be ground to a usable
consistency, which was done with an animal (horse, mule, or oxen) powered
mill. The pottery would then be turned on a foot powered wheel, a
skill acquired after years of practice that often involved an
apprenticeship. The pottery was fired in a groundhog kiln, which was a
long low kiln partially dug into the ground. The groundhog kilns
replaced the earlier beehive kilns used for earthenware. This locally
made stoneware was an invaluable product in the 19th century. In the
Piedmont of North Carolina there were no practical or available alternatives
to the jars, jugs, crocks, pots and pitchers produced by the local
potters. (Perry: 6, 7-8, 14)
Traditional pottery of the North Carolina Piedmont
began to decline with the approach of the 20th century. Cheap metal,
glass, and other factory-made storage containers hurt the business of the local
potters. In the Catawba Valley the Seagle family stopped producing
alkaline-glazed pottery in 1892. In the east, the production of
salt-glazed utilitarian pottery declined even as the craft of pottery was
being revived. In the Seagrove area, outsiders who recognized the
inherent beauty of the traditional pottery developed a new market for the
pottery and encouraged a switch from the utilitarian work to the production
of art pottery. (Zug: 16)
The Outen Family
Potters came into
Union County, North Carolina from South Carolina in the mid-nineteenth century. Thomas
Gay (1837-1909) arrived in Union County in the 1850s, and likely trained his
brother-in-law Nimrod Broom (1842-1912). Broom in turn trained his
son's brother-in-law, William Franklin Outen (1871-1947), whose family had
moved to Union County from South Carolina around 1860. William F. Outen worked with
Nimrod's son "Jug Jim" Broom (1869-1957) in Monroe making
salt-glazed stoneware until around 1900. "Jug Jim" continued to
operate a shop in Monroe until 1946 and was the last traditional potter in
Union County. William F. Outen, moved to South Carolina in
the early 1900s and established potteries in Lancaster and
Catawba Junction (1915). Outen finally settled in Matthews, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina in
1922 where he established Matthews Pottery. (Zug: 66; Baldwin:139)
Matthews existed in a "ceramic no man's land" (Zug: 197) between the salt glazing tradition of the
eastern part of the state and the alkaline glaze tradition of the
Catawba Valley. His relative isolation in this "ceramic no
man's land" may help explain why William Outen moved away from the salt glaze
tradition. It is well documented that North Carolina folk potters were
adverse to change. Yet in Matthews it appears that William Outen abandoned
the salt glaze and began to employ the Bristol glaze, a glaze developed in
England in the first half of the 19th century that gave pottery a white or
white-mottled finish. Unlike salt and alkaline,
the Bristol glaze required commercially produced components. William Outen combined feldspar, whiting (calcium carbonate), ball clay (kaolinitic
sedimentary clay), and zinc and tin oxides to produce his Bristol glaze.
It is unclear why William Outen switched from salt to the
Bristol glaze, but it may have been to stay competitive with the factory-made pottery coming out of the North. The Kennedy family, traditional
potters in Wilkesboro, adopted the Bristol glaze in the 1920s to compete
with the white factory-made pottery coming out of Ohio. (Zug: 196 - 197)
Rufus Franklin Outen
Rufus Outen, wife Louise and daughter Doris ca. 1930 at the Matthews Pottery
Outen's son, Rufus Franklin Outen was born in 1905 and learned the traditional
pottery trade from his father and from his uncle "Jug Jim" Broom.
Rufus Outen probably worked in his father's potteries from an early age and
certainly labored in the Matthews Pottery. Perhaps to establish
himself as a potter, Rufus Outen
moved to Marion Virginia in 1929 to work in a pottery there. His
timing was bad. With the onset of the Great Depression, Outen was forced
to come back to the Matthews Pottery. After his return, the Matthews Pottery began to produce
machine-stamped flower pots, while Rufus Outen continued to throw pots in the traditional
manner. Rufus Outen continued to work at the Matthews Pottery until he
opened R. F. Outen Pottery, around 1950. He built his shop on Jefferson Street on the edge of Matthews,
next door to a home he constructed in 1947. Rufus Outen built a vaulted brick kiln
with help from a mason named Long. The vault was formed with wood
framing and was built with several layers of fire brick. The kiln
featured six chimneys when built and was fed by fuel oil (heating oil or
diesel fuel) and forced
air. The process of perfecting the kiln involved trial and
error. The burners, the air flow, the fuel flow, and the exhaust draft
all had to be modified until the kiln functioned optimally. This
process took years, and Rufus Outen's children recall that "months of
work" were ruined as Outen tinkered with the kiln design. His
patience paid off, and once the kiln was adjusted properly, Rufus Outen lost
very few pots in the kiln for the rest of his career. (Interview, Outen, 9-8-11)
While the Matthews
Pottery employed ten to fifteen workers, the Outen Pottery was a smaller
business with Rufus Outen and one or two part-time helpers. Rufus Outen would make "selling
trips," north as far a Wilkesboro, North Carolina and south as far
as Greenville, South Carolina. On these selling trips, Outen would visit
hardware stores and take orders for churns, crocks, rabbit watering bowls
and feeders, pots and pitchers. When Outen had enough orders to fill
the kiln, he would return home and begin turning the pieces. Rufus Outen was
prolific. He specialized in stoneware churns, and it is claimed that
he could turn 100 pieces a day. His nickname among some of the other potters
was "Churn Turner." A reporter from the Charlotte News noted
that Outen had produced 300 churn lids the day of their visit. "I don't aim
to set the world on fire," said Outen "I work as I like to." (Interview, Outen, 10-11-11; Gummerson, 12-16-68)
Rufus Outen's wheel
Rufus Outen shoveling dried clay into the hammer mill at his shop in 1968.
dug locally. Rufus Outen and his helpers would shovel the clay into
the back of a truck and then unload it at the
pottery. The clay needed to be free of rocks, and thus many clay
deposits could not be used. The clay would be cleaned and worked by hand until
it was ready to be fed into a pug mill. The pug mill extruded clay that
was ready to work. At some point, Rufus Outen acquired a hammer mill to
process the clay before it would go to the pug mill. A hammer mill
could crush rocky deposits in the clay and thus make more clay usable.
Before being used in the hammer mill the clay had to dry. A large shed
was added to the rear of the workshop where the raw clay could be stored
until it had properly dried. After being processed in the hammer mill, water was added to
the dry clay and then fed into the pug mill. Once the clay was worked to an
appropriate consistency, the helpers would make "balls" of clay
that Rufus Outen would turn on a wheel. Once turned, the pieces, known
as greenware, would
be carefully placed on drying shelves that literally filled the
workshop. His family recalls that their father would turn pieces for
approximately one month in order to produce enough pottery to fill the
kiln. (Interviews, Outen, 9-8-11, 10-11-11)
Rufus Outen in 1968 with greenware ready to be loaded into the
kiln. Pieces shown include a traditional churn and jug. Also shown
are rabbit water bowls and feeders, spittoons, and decorative flower
pots. Outen is holding a earthenware cooker.
Hammer mill on right. Pug mill center.
The next step for the stoneware was the glaze. In
the early years of his business, like his father, Rufus Outen concocted and
used a Bristol glaze. In his workshop Rufus Outen built a motorized mixing vat to mix the
glaze ingredients. Sometime in the late 1950s, Rufus Outen began to
use Albany Slip, a commercially produced glazing compound that gave pottery
a deep brown color. Rufus Outen's son, Frank Outen, believes that his
father switched because the Albany Slip was simple to use and the
finish was popular with the customers. Albany slip came in a bag and was
simply mixed in a trough. Each piece would be dipped in the trough to
coat the greenware with the glazing compound. The pottery would then
be set on temporary shelving to dry, and the workshop would largely fill-up
with the glaze-coated-greenware. Once dry, the pieces would be loaded into the kiln. Filling
the kiln was
an art. Rufus Outen knew exactly where different pieces should be
located in the kiln. The temperatures in the kiln varied, and
different pieces needed different firing temperatures. The fragile greenware had to be stacked one piece
on top of the other. Once the kiln was filled, Rufus Outen would seal the kiln
doors with mortared brick. The firing would begin early in the morning
and last a full day. The cool down would last several days.
(Chasanoff; Interviews, Outen, 9-8-11, 10-11-11)
Rufus Outen churn glazed with Albany slip.
kiln had cooled enough, it would be unloaded directly into the delivery
truck. Packing the truck with the finished pieces was planned so that
the pieces for the first delivery would be at the top of the load, and the
deliverables for the final stop would be at the bottom of the load.
For deliveries, Outen would use the same truck that he used to haul
clay. A layer of straw
was laid on the truck bed, and pieces were set in the straw. Layers of
straw were added to cushion the pieces from each other. The entire
contents from the kiln would be loaded into a single truckload. A longtime
smoker, Outen once lost a load of pottery, as well as a 1960 Chevrolet
flatbed truck, in a fire when one of his discarded cigarette butts landed in the
dry straw during
a delivery trip. (Interviews, Outen, 9-8-11, 10-11-11)
In the 19th century, North Carolina was full
of local potteries, but during the 20th century traditional pottery nearly
vanished. For most of Rufus Outen's career, he was an anachronism.
Most traditional pottery in North Carolina ceased by the end of World War
II, just when Rufus Outen was establishing his own pottery in
Matthews. Yet Outen found a way to make a living. According to all
accounts, he worked very hard. In a 1968 interview Outen is quoted:
It's hard work. But I wouldn't want to do anything else. There
is something very satisfying about it. You can be nervous and worried
when you start, but it melts away as you work. You use mind and
muscles. (Gummerson, 12-16-68)
Outen also adapted to the market.
His sales trips through North and South Carolina dictated what he
produced. Perhaps the collapse of traditional utilitarian pottery left
him a niche to fill. Perhaps the rural economies where he sold continued
to demand the utilitarian pottery, such as churns, that he continued to
produce. Outen also turned nontraditional items demanded by the
market. These included rabbit watering bowls, heavy glazed bowls with
sloping side that would allow frozen water to rise up and not crack the vessel.
Outen also produced, in addition to stoneware, earthenware strawberry
planters, decorative pots and pitchers, and cooking vessels. Outen was
quoted as saying " I like making something useful." (Gummerson, 12-16-68) Outen did
not toil in obscurity. His exceptionalism was recognized in the
1960s. Local TV personality Betty Feezer featured Outen on her show,
and filmed him performing his trade. Also in the 1960s, Outen taught
pottery a Winthrop College. (Interviews, Outen, 9-8-11,
Rufus Outen was also responsible for keeping traditional pottery
alive in South Carolina. Outen and Horace Ratteree acquired a pottery
in Bethune, Kershaw County, South Carolina in 1959 from Guy Daugherty who
had operated it since 1945. Outen and Ratteree hired Otto Brown, a
fifth generation potter from Georgia, to turn ware for them. The shop
produced mostly un-glazed garden ware, but it also produced stoneware jugs
and churns. The South Carolina pottery employed an oil-burning kiln like the kiln a the
R. F. Outen Pottery. Outen and Ratteree sold the pottery around 1962.
Above: examples of Rufus Outen's later decorative
Below: Outen in his workshop in 1975
process of producing traditional pottery is hard work. Around 1975
Rufus Outen fired his last batch of pottery. He continued to produce
and sell pottery clay, with his clients including the art departments of the
Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System. After retiring, he began to make deliveries for
the Matthews Pottery and hunted clay deposits for the Matthews Pottery and for brick
manufactures. In 1976 his wife Louise died. In 1983 he
remarried, but later that year died from pneumonia. (Interviews, Outen, 9-8-11, 10-11-11)
The R. F. Outen Pottery consists of a one-story workshop with extensive shed additions
and a detached brick kiln. The buildings are set in a line that runs
north-south, and are located on a roughly triangular-shaped 1.47 acre
parcel. The pottery is located in the Town of Matthews, but the
location at the end of a dead-end residential street retains a
distinctly rural character.
Kiln in 1968
The brick kiln is essentially a barrel vault.
Segmental-arch door openings are located on the north and south elevations.
The door openings were bricked-in each time the kiln was loaded and fired.
Rufus Outen in the kiln in 1975
The kiln originally featured six square
brick chimneys, five of which have survived. A framework of steel
angle bolted into the brick walls and connected by threaded steel rods
reinforces the structure. The interiors of the kiln and chimneys was
laid with high-temperature fire brick, with common brick on the exterior.
The kiln is protected by wood-framed shed roof. The roof and wood
framing were completely replaced sometime after 2007. The top of the vault is parged with a coating of mortar or other masonry compound. This may
indicate that the kiln was once exposed to the elements. The center of the
barrel vault is now sagging, but it is unclear if this is long term
condition or due to recent deterioration.
The kiln is no longer functioning. It was heated by four separate fuel
oil burners located in the kiln along the east wall. The piping for the
burners pass through small, low, and evenly spaced arched openings in the
east elevation. Piping includes copper fuel lines and larger iron
pipes that channeled forced air to the burners. A blower apparatus
located on the north elevation is still extant. A two thousand gallon
fuel oil tank was once located to the south of the kiln. Fuel was
originally gravity fed. Rufus Outen added a small pump, scavenged from
a refrigeration system, to improve fuel delivery.
workshop is a front-gabled masonry block building. The building is
three bay wide, with a doorway centered in the facade. The doorway and
window openings are topped with wood lintels. The door and windows are
covered with plywood. The gable is covered with siding. The
low-pitched roof is covered with asphalt shingles. A power meter is
attached to the facade to the right of the doorway.
The east elevation is four bays wide and contains four
window openings. Originally the window openings contained a single
two-vertical-light sash but are now covered with metal panels. The
entire width of the east elevation is sheltered by a low-slope shed
addition. The shed roof is supported by eight posts. The posts
are a mix of rough-sawn and round timbers. The shed addition shelters
building materials and various pieces of pottery equipment including a
potter's wheel attached to an early automobile transmission.
Pottery wheel attached to automobile transmission.
The west elevation is four bays wide and is partially
below grade. The west elevation is sheltered by a shed addition with a
low-slope 5-V metal roof, supported by a row of sawn posts. The shed
additions shelters pottery moulds. The asphalt-shingle roof over
the principal section of the workshop building is pierced west of the center
ridge by a brick flue.
rear elevation is partially below grade. Five wall openings on the
rear elevation served as windows and doors that allow for light and as pass-throughs
for materials. The masonry wall is topped with a wooden
gable. A large, tall freestanding shed was built adjacent to the rear
elevation. The metal shed roof is supported by three rows of round treated
poles. Once Rufus Outen acquired a hammer mill to process the clay, the
rear shed was needed to shelter piles of clay as they dried to a proper
The interior of the building has a high degree of
integrity. The interior features a dirt floor and contains much of
the equipment that was used when the pottery was in operation. This
equipment includes: pug mills, hammer mill, potter's wheel, work table,
glaze mixing vat, and glazing vat.
Zug, Charles G. III. Turners
and Burners: The Folk Potters of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: UNC
Gummerson, Dora "Mr.Outen's an Artist Who Works With Clay," Charlotte
News, December 16, 1968
"Catawba Valley Pottery of North Carolina."
Perry, Barbara S., Ed. North Carolina Pottery: The Collection of the Mint
Museums. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2004.
Interview with Frank Outen, Elenore Outen Locke,
William Locke, 9-8-11
Interview with Frank Outen, Elenore Outen Locke,
William Locke, 10-11-11
Baldwin, Cinda K.
Great & Noble Jar: Traditional
Stoneware of South Carolina. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993
"Selections from the Allan Chasanoff
Ceramic Collection," glossary. Website (http://www.mintmuseum.org/chasanoff/process/glossary.htm)