On February 24th, Chuck Witt inter­viewed Ashley and Carvel Norman, own­ers of Dirty South Pottery, locat­ed at 38 North Main Street in down­town Winchester. On enter­ing the store­front one notices the unusu­al aro­ma of clay and the shelves clus­tered with the fin­ished prod­ucts of mugs, plates, plat­ters, and bowls, all illus­tra­tive of the art­work of pot­tery.  The two young entre­pre­neurs were wait­ing, along with their small tan dog and Carvel’s cap lib­er­al­ly cov­ered with light clay dust.

CW:  Hi. Good to see you both again.  It’s been a while.

Carvel and Ashley Norman, owners of Dirty South Pottery
Carvel and Ashley Norman, own­ers of Dirty South Pottery (pho­to by Chuck Witt)

A&C:  Hi.  Welcome.

CW:  (After set­tling in and get­ting the recorder going)  Well, let’s get right to it.  Ashley, I under­stand that you are a Winchester native.

A: Yes, born and raised here.  My par­ents are Wayne and Karen Combs.

CW:  But you, Carvel, are not orig­i­nal­ly from Winchester?

C:  Right.  I’m from Glasgow originally.

CW:  And you two met how?

C:  At col­lege.  I grad­u­at­ed from Brescia and then trans­ferred to EKU, which is where we met.

CW:  And you were both major­ing in what?

C:  I was major­ing in ceramics.

A: I received my BFA in photography.

CW:  Do you still do much photography?

A:  Not so much.  I take dig­i­tals of our work and pho­tos that we put on the website.

CW:  So, how did you come by this property?

A:  I was at the Beer Cheese Festival in 2014 and noticed this build­ing and there were signs in the front win­dow adver­tis­ing that it would be auc­tioned short­ly.  We were doing pot­tery out of a home a cou­ple of blocks away and I just couldn’t get the build­ing out of my mind so I went to the auc­tion and got the win­ning bid.

CW:  Do you enjoy liv­ing down­town or would you rather be in the sub­urbs?  (their home is above the studio).

C:  Every place has its ups and downs.  There’s a lot we enjoy about being down­town, espe­cial­ly the walk­a­bil­i­ty, hav­ing a restau­rant so close, being able to walk over to the hard­ware store if I need some­thing.  It’s nice not hav­ing to get into the car and be run­ning out somewhere.

A:  I love the build­ings here.

CW:  Well, it doesn’t sound like the sub­urbs are much a draw to you.

A:  I think if we had kids that would change.

CW:  You got an award for all the work you did on the build­ing.  What year was that and what was that award?

A&C:  2016.  It was the Historic Preservation Award.

Interior of the retail area of Dirty South Pottery
Interior of the retail area of Dirty South Pottery (pho­to from dirtysouthpottery.com)

CW:  I guess it was a work in progress at that point?

A:  It still is.  We still make changes in the store area and, of course, a home is always under­go­ing change.

CW:  Did you have many dif­fi­cul­ties in try­ing to set up the store and your home?  Codes issues?

C:  Not so much.  Signage was prob­a­bly the biggest issue but noth­ing major.  We had heard such hor­ror sto­ries about deal­ing with code enforce­ment.  Somebody said ‘no’ was their favorite word.  But I went in with sev­er­al binders and made my case and the entire meet­ing was a case of them ask­ing what resources we need­ed, how could they help.  It was fantastic.

We did have some issues but they were most­ly relat­ed to foun­da­tion work.

C:  Dealing with code issues relat­ed to kilns was some­thing new for code enforce­ment.  We know that our kilns are much safer than most res­i­den­tial stoves, just because of the way they’re built and reg­is­ter heat.

CW:  You’re not con­duct­ing class­es now.  Do you expect those to start again?

C:  We made the deci­sion to stop doing class­es in December of 2019.  I hurt my back pret­ty bad in October of that year and we decid­ed that we need­ed to make a change from the sit-down wheels to stand-up type and had to re-eval­u­ate the stu­dio lay­out.  Plus we were spend­ing a lot of time prepar­ing for the class­es and then clean­ing up after­ward and it was tak­ing too much time.  We had our last class in February of 2020.

A:  People prob­a­bly think we stopped the class­es because of COVID, but we had already made that deci­sion and we won’t be doing class­es in the future.

CW:  North Main Street seems to be becom­ing an “arts cen­ter.” Is that a good thing?

A:  Having an arts dis­trict is a won­der­ful thing and won­der­ful for a com­mu­ni­ty.  A lot of com­mu­ni­ties have ben­e­fit­ted from hav­ing a strong arts area.  Paducah comes to mind.  I’d like to see some­thing like that for Winchester, but it’s hard­er because of the cost of estab­lish­ing a busi­ness is high­er than it was when we started.

CW: Do you do a lot of your sales online?

C:  A good deal.  And it depends on the time of the year but on a year­ly basis, we do more busi­ness in-store.

A:  On aver­age, our online sales are about 30%.  And a lot of peo­ple will buy online and pick up at the store.

CW:  What do you think dis­tin­guish­es your type of pottery?

C:  I want to feel good about what I put out.  I put a lot of focus on mate­ri­als, the way we fire, the glazes we use.  We make sure we use the safest mate­ri­als and process­es and that gives me more con­fi­dence in the prod­uct we sell.  If I don’t believe in a prod­uct, I don’t sell it.  We don’t make prod­ucts that we don’t use ourselves.

We dupli­cate what we enjoy and what we use the most because we know it’s func­tion­al and comfortable.

CW:  Are you famil­iar with Raku?  I used to see that at the Berea Arts Fair and was always impressed with the unique­ness of it.

C:  Very much so.  Ironically Raku was vir­tu­al­ly all of my senior the­sis work.  I taught a les­son on the process.  We don’t have the facil­i­ties to do it here because of the spe­cial fir­ing tech­nique required.

"This might be bourbon" mug
“This might be bour­bon” mug, a Dirty South orig­i­nal (pho­to from dirtysouthpottery.com)

CW:  Would you clas­si­fy your pot­tery as more util­i­tar­i­an than decorative?

C:  It was stressed to me that “form fol­lows func­tion.” We focus on the util­i­tar­i­an por­tion of it first, but once those ques­tions are answered we then ask what is going to set this apart.

CW:  When we were set­ting this inter­view up you men­tioned that you had done inter­views with oth­er sources. What were some of those?

A&C:  We’ve done a cou­ple with the Winchester Sun.  We did an arti­cle for the mag­a­zine that the Sun pub­lished for a while, been on the radio with Tim Smith sev­er­al times, WLEX.

CW:  As down­town busi­ness own­ers, what would you like to see hap­pen to make the area grow?

A:  I’d like to see more inno­v­a­tive ideas about the com­mu­ni­ty and how we run our com­mu­ni­ty.  I’d like to see trees and cross­walks and more pub­lic artwork.

CW:  Well, that’s all the ques­tions I had.  Thanks for tak­ing the time to answer.  It was good to be with you again and I wish you much suc­cess here.

A&C:  Thanks.  Good to be with you.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.