At the Wheel

Kenneth Neilsen was still in high school in Cary in 1980 when his new neighbor introduced him to a pottery wheel.

“I made a pot the first time, and for years I thought anybody could do this,” he said. “I just took to it so easily.”

When he spent time teaching pottery classes several years later, he realized not everyone is cut out for wheel work. Maybe there was something to this skill that he’d picked up so easily.

He and that neighbor founded DK Pottery, producing pottery in volume. They sold at craft shows, wholesale, and even had their pottery in Hudson Belk stores. The business was a success, but about 10 years ago Neilsen needed a change of pace.

Kenneth Neilsen highlights the work of other artisans at his Cary shop, from fellow potters to soapmakers and jewelry artists.

“I just reached a point where I wanted something smaller,” he said. “I felt that I was doing more managerial work, and not actually making something.”

That’s how he landed in a small, white 1920s house with purple shutters in downtown Cary on Dry Avenue. Neilsen and his wife, Glenda, renovated the home, turning the residence into a business. He started making pottery there in 2013.

Today, Neilsen couldn’t be happier. The downtown Cary location is optimal as that part of Cary continues to grow and evolve.

“We are looking forward to the park being finished downtown that the town is building,” he said. “With all the new development around downtown, there’s going to be more people living and doing things downtown.”

Kenneth Neilsen started creating pottery in high school. “For years I thought anybody could do this,” he says. “I just took to it so easily.”

Neilsen describes two categories of potters. There’s what he calls “art potters.” They may craft one item of pottery as a work of art, and then move on to something different.

Neilsen calls himself a “craftsman” versus an “artist” when it comes to pottery. His sense of satisfaction comes from creating pottery in numbers and seeing those finished works.

“For me, there’s a sense of accomplishment when you’ve sat down and made 100 mugs,” Neilsen said. “It’s that feeling that you did something for the last six or eight hours.”

“Then you go through the process of firing and glazing – when you get to the end and you open the kiln up to see what you’ve made, it’s kind of like Christmas to me.”

Cary Pottery is located in a 1920s house on Dry Avenue.

Neilsen also enjoys the sense of permanence in the work. His creations could be around in 10,000 years – they still dig up old relics in Egypt, he points out.

Neilsen’s studio features the work of other artists because community and the “shop local” movement are important to him. He spotlights the work of other potters and a variety of other artisans – soapmakers to jewelry makers.

Amanda Duncan has sold her leather jewelry there, but her connection to the house and to Neilsen runs deeper. She grew up in the house across the street, the Marcus B. Dry historic home, and her grandmother lived for a time in the building that now houses Cary Pottery.

Neilsen works in his studio.

Neilsen is a friend to the family and particularly close with Duncan’s father. Duncan says her friend embodies the type of person her family would hope to see in her grandmother’s former home.

“Kenneth is all about kindness and generosity, and wanting to give back to the community through his art,” Duncan said. “To our family, it means a lot to us that he’s there.”

Neilsen also served as something of a role model to Duncan, who now operates her own gallery, The Selkie, in Wilson, N.C.

“He’s about quality, color, texture and the feel of things, but also making work very accessible,” she said. “That is very challenging to do, to create something that has a lot of value and worth but at the same time, put art in the hands of someone who may otherwise not be able to afford it.”

Kenneth Neilsen gets excited when he talks about the future of downtown Cary. “I feel with that park downtown, the business is going to get bigger,” he says.

Though he’s downsized, Neilsen says owning a business is still about long days sometimes and being the one responsible at the end of the day.

He measures success now in creating works that get people’s attention, that they want to spend their money on, and that may make them come back to add to their collection. He creates everything from what he calls “strictly utilitarian” wear – mugs, for example – to display pieces, such as a bowl that might sit on a coffee table.

Neilsen makes his glazes himself and says his process for glazing sets him apart. He’ll layer glazes, dipping a piece in a certain glaze and then spraying several other glazes on top so that they interact and run together. One of his bestsellers has four different glazes on it.

Neilsen will layer glazes, dipping a piece in a one glaze and then spraying several other glazes on top so that they interact and run together.

Business has picked up as downtown Cary has flourished, but he isn’t feeling that same sense of being “too big” that he felt towards the end of his DK Pottery days. Instead, Neilsen, who first lived in Cary in 1972 and attended elementary, middle and high school there, gets excited when he talks about the future of downtown and his business.

“I feel with that park downtown, the business is going to get bigger,” he said. “The park won’t be just a draw for Cary, I think it’s going to be a draw from other parts of the state.”

1 Comment

  • Amanda says:

    Has this cute little shop closed or moved? I need some pottery!
    The house at 106 Dry St is no longer the pottery shop.

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