In 1970, Jerry Fenberg and Charlotte Wooten Fenberg opened Humble Mill
Pottery on Old Humble Mill Road near Seagrove, North Carolina. There were four
or five pottery shops producing in the area at that time.
Earlier, in the 1960s Jerry and Charlotte had studied at the Memphis Academy of
Art in Tennessee. It was there that a wonderful opportunity came about. A
Japanese potter, Atsuya Hamada, visited and did a workshop at the Academy.
Through him an introduction was made that allowed Jerry and Charlotte to go to
Japan to work and live. Atsuya's father Shoji Hamada sponsored their time there.
Mr. Hamada Sr. was a distinguished, internationally known potter who was
designated an "Intangible Cultural Treasure" by the government of Japan.
Jerry secured an apprenticeship with the Otsuka family at the Daisei kiln in
Mashiko. This is the workshop where Shoji Hamada apprenticed when he came to
Mashiko in his twenties. For two years the Daisei and Hamada workshops
encouraged the Fenbergs. They and other patient Japanese people taught the young
couple many things. There was also time spent with international visitors Bernard
Leach, Franz Wildenheim, and many other, less famous foreigners.
Charlotte decorated pots at the Daisei and soaked up everything Japanese she
could. She recalls "It was enormously enriching to be in that culture as an artist and
as a new mother." Her experiences still affect her today. She gained many insights
as she walked and cycled along the roads and paths around Mashiko, learning
many valuable lessons about raising children, preserving food, and hand-sewing
traditional Japanese clothing. She considers herself fortunate to have had that time
in the little rural village of Mashiko, Japan from 1967 to 1969.
Jerry came away with a wealth of uniquely Japanese ideas. Some of these were a
sense of form, turning techniques, and the work ethic of the potter. Jerry felt a
determination to find and use clay and materials from the land around Seagrove.
This desire led him to spend many hours seeking the knowledge accumulated in
the minds of a few of the potters in Seagrove at that time. Dorothy and Walter
Auman, Melvin Owens, Ben Owen I, Joe Owen, Waymon Cole, Zedith Teague and
her family, and others graciously shared their know-how gained over lifetimes.
Some were no longer working potters and were keen to pass on their knowledge to
one interested in doing things the old way.