Over the past month or so I had the honor of working with Rhonda Bates and Wes Lassiter, collaborating on an artist/local business photo shoot. I spent a few days with the couple at their home workshop and both of their galleries located here on the Outer Banks. I originally thought one shoot would do. However, after speaking with them I realized the history and time associated with their artistry would take a few days to capture in full. I started with Wes at Red Drum Pottery located in Frisco on route 12. Then I went to Manteo and spent a day with Rhonda at the Red Drum Pottery II at the Waterfront Shops. Then we all came together at their home workshop as I observed Wes and Rhonda work side by side, they gave me a glimpse of behind the scenes of the pottery process. I learned all about their life and technique during our time together.
In the spring of 1993 Rhonda Bates a renowned painter and potter starting selling her creations on Ocracoke Island and Red Drum Pottery was born. She named it Red Drum Pottery, for Rhonda was a famous Red Drum Fisherman tagging and releasing 83 citation (over 42”) Red Drum in the period of one year. She worked out of a tiny little garage that folks would walk down a sand path to find her signature Red Drum pattern that is in homes worldwide.
Not long after she started her business, she was invited to a 4th of July party hosted by the members of the Band Molasses Creek and was introduced to Wes. At the time he was the banjo player for Molasses Creek. Rhonda was renting a room from Dave Tweety the fiddle player for the band. Wes asked her to go see the fireworks with him and they have been together ever since. He lived up in Kitty Hawk and started coming down to Ocracoke Island on weekends to help Rhonda. One day he got his hands in the clay. Not long after he quit his job and moved to Ocracoke. Rhonda having a degree from the prestigious Corcoran School of Art in Washington DC continued her education and began attending numerous workshops around the world developing numerous ideas. After a trip to Russia, she came home with “the best kept Russian secret” to help perfect her clay mold process.
Rhonda and Wes have a second home in Edenton, NC and they moved there after hurricane’s Floyd and Dennis. They had two warehouse spaces they leased for six months for $1.00. They made a gallery and studio in one space. The town would not let them keep there signs out and shut them down. So they rented an old house on the main drag and tried to sell their work, turns out the location was not the best. The couple then headed back to Frisco and started selling off friends back porches. In 25 minutes they were in business.
They have been in several locations on the island. They are in their sixth location and hopefully won’t have to move again as they bought the building. It’s perfect for them, it’s less then a mile from their home. There is a theater below the Frisco gallery that they often perform shows to the public throughout the year. Wes has been playing bluegrass all his life. He taught Rhonda how to play the bass. They had a band for six years called Banjo Island. Right now they are missing a third person, as soon as the right person comes along they will get back to performing in the theater. The band was in the Outer Banks Blue Grass Festival every year and a couple of years ago opened for Ricky Skaggs.
Two of their most noted commissioned tiles were created to present Rhonda Vincent on stage at one of the festivals. She had them installed in her Nashville Studio. They would bring their school bus that’s painted red and set up an area they called Banjo Island Jam Village. Everybody came to the bus that wanted to jam. One night Rhonda Vincent and her band jammed with them and about 400 people. It was like being in the middle of a beehive. The couple was also published in Our State Magazine a few years ago.
Rhonda and Wes opened a second shop in Manteo three years ago. They continue to make pottery and wall tiles. Rhonda has made over 600 molds for relief tiles that range from images of fish to flowers. She took me into a blue school bus that sits near their workshop at their home. Showing me hundreds of molds she has created from scratch. Also over 100 Christmas ornament molds, with all kinds of images from lighthouses to octopuses. Rhonda said “we love our life and when we aren’t making stuff we are working out at the gym or doing yoga together. ” She also dives into painting an occasional watercolor painting. Which is what originally started her art career. She stated “painting has been a passion my whole life but sometimes things get in the way.”
I hope that you stop in and say hi and grab a piece of pottery to take home with you during your visit to the Outer Banks at their Manteo and or Frisco location. Please scroll down for a few behind the scenes frames of my time with Wes and Rhonda. For more information check them out on Facebook.