Starting at a young age, Rufus Franklin Outen learned the traditional pottery trade from his father who owned Matthews Pottery which began producing machine-stamped flowerpots in the 1930s. Rufus preferred to continue working with his own two hands utilizing the traditional wheel-thrown pottery. In 1950, he opened R. F. Outen Pottery on Jefferson Street. He designed the six-chimney vaulted rectangular brick kiln, which operated on fuel oil and forced air. Preparation of the local clay for potting was an arduous task. The clay had to be cleaned and worked by hand until ready to be fed into a hammer mill, followed by the pug mill. When it reached the right consistency, it was rolled into balls of clay that Rufus would turn on the wheel.
Rufus, with the help of his wife Louise and their children, did the work himself, occasionally employing a part-time helper. He worked tirelessly promoting his business, making sales calls as far north as Wilkesboro, NC and as far south as Greenville, SC. On these trips, he visited hardware stores and took orders for churns, crocks, rabbit watering bowls and feeders, pots, and pitchers. Rufus earned the nickname “churn turner” by turning up to 100 large churns a day. In the late 1950s, he switched from “Bristol” glaze to the more popular “Albany Slip,” giving the pottery a deep brown color.
Rufus’s pottery caught the eye of Betty Feezor, a Charlotte TV personality in the 1960s, who featured him on her show. A local food editor, Dora Gummerson, interviewed Rufus on her column in 1968. At the time, Rufus was producing clay chicken cookers which were a major cooking trend.
In1975, Rufus fired his last batch of pottery, though he continued producing and selling pottery clay. Today, the Outen’s kiln is the last known kiln in Mecklenburg County and the R. F. Outen Pottery is listed as a local historic landmark.
Until next week,
UNC Charlotte Graduate Student
Summer Intern, The Charlotte Museum of History
This post is based on an essay by Paula H. Lester for the Charlotte 240 project, a collection of essays written by Charlotteans that explore regional history and highlight the people, places, and spaces that tell our story. You can find the original article here.
About The Charlotte Museum of History
The Charlotte Museum of History exists to save and share the Charlotte region’s history, helping create a better understanding of the past and inspiring dialogue about the future. The museum is the steward of the 1774 Hezekiah Alexander Rock House and homesite, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest home in Mecklenburg County. Visit charlottemuseum.org and follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The museum is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
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“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass