During the 1970s Rodney had become interested in the historical pottery traditions of western North Carolina. He collected examples, studying their forms, glazes, methods of manufacture and makers. From this grew a desire to make pottery. In 1977 and 78 he assisted Burlon Craig of Vale, NC, the last of the traditional mountain potters, with loading and firing his groundhog kiln. From Burlon he developed skills in firing and a greater appreciation for the history behind the pots.
Rodney’s first pieces were copies of early crocks and milk pitchers as well as face jugs. When a number of other potters began producing face jugs and similar folk style work, he began to draw or incise scenes on his pottery. Eventually Rodney began to cut out around and between the incised images to create decorative vases and candle lanterns. Each creation is individually designed and requires many hours of intricate cutting, incising and glazing. This style, while rooted in the historical pottery traditions, is unique in its approach. Rodney describes these works as one-of-a-kind art pottery derived from regional folk traditions.
In addition to his pieces with incised scenes, Rodney still occasionally creates folk style sculptures such as Appalachian Noah’s arks, snake handlers, or pigs with riders. Rodney’s wife, Kim, is also a talented potter. With no prior training or experience in art, she is a true folk artist. Rodney says he never knows what she will make when she goes to the studio. Her current work is mostly hand built and includes face jugs with wire hair and pottery decorated with possums, singing dogs or turtles. Some works are a collaboration between both of them.
Both Kim and Rodney grew up in western North Carolina. They treasure the historical pottery traditions of their region which are rapidly disappearing. Their glazes are prepared from wood ashes, clay slips, crushed glass and iron rock as was done locally in the 1800s. Their use of these natural materials results in creations with warm earth tones.
Rodney has a special love for Pisgah Forest which he considers a historical treasure. With the assistance of Thomas Case, he has revived the crystalline glazes and cameo techniques of Walter Stephen.
Rodney is a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild and some of their work is sold at the Guild's Folk Art Center in Asheville and Arrowcraft in Gatlinburg. They display at several regional craft shows including the Arts and Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn and the Catawba Valley Pottery Festival in Hickory. The Leftwich's best selections are always available at their home studio with sales held twice a year. This year, a special event will also be held at the Historical Pisgah Forest Pottery site in mid July. Everyone is welcome. Their pottery is also open year round by appointment.