Appalachian culture is so woven into daily life in greater Cincinnati that we can often equate it with the culture of the city in general. Even as the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition pays particular attention to developments in urban Appalachian culture, it took a visit from core member Pauletta Hansel to bring notice to Parsley Pottery as an urban Appalachian venture. Their unassuming presence in the city is distinguished primarily by their work and not the distinctly urban Appalachian story behind that work.
At its core, Parsley Pottery is a mother/son venture. If you call their shop, you are going to talk to Carol Parsley. She is truly the matriarch of this project even if Jason Parsley is the man behind the potter’s wheel. As Carol Parsley explained, “we are doing things for the people. This is not a big shop with open access, and we aren’t manufacturing things on a large scale.” The family-oriented philosophy that guides Parsley Pottery has to do with how the business began which has its origins in Appalachian migration to Cincinnati. I almost had to coax this out of Carol Parsley, but when I asked if she was in fact Appalachian, she said, “Well yes! I’m about as hillbilly as they come.”
Carol Parsley is from Somerset, Kentucky, and her story is a distinctly familiar urban Appalachian story. “I came to Cincinnati when I was 10 after my siblings and I had been shuffled around during the war and into the 1950s,” she explained. Carol Parsley’s mother was the person who brought them to Cincinnati. After leaving their home in Somerset, she moved north for a job with Proctor and Gamble. Carol went on to tell me that “members of my family were all heading to Cincinnati for work. My uncle came up to work for Stearns and Foster, and then he’d go home and then come back again.” One could make the case this is the quintessential urban Appalachian story.
Jason Parsley was introduced to pottery in the high school, and Carol Parsley fostered this interest. “I was a single mom, and I tried to encourage all my kids to follow their interests and their hearts” Carol remembers. She explained that Jason’s talent for pottery led to a business venture, and they ran it from home for quite some time. “We ran the pottery from the basement for five years until Jason finally got his building, Carol told me.
That building is in Carthage where Parsley Pottery has been in business of 34 years. Carol Parsley says their “pottery is decadent but functional. It is reasonably priced and for everyone.” You can scroll through photos of their work on their website. What is striking about the pottery made by Parsley Pottery is that it all has the quality of a singular work of art. Even taking what Carol Parsley says about it being primarily functional, it nevertheless stands out almost as museum pieces. But an underlying belief attends their pottery: “Clay is of the Earth, and these are not just display items. We don’t wholesale. These are for the people” says Carol Parsley. The work is sturdy enough, and even if each piece does have the quality of a display item with its signature and copyrighted vine design, they are definitely meant to be used in your home.
Core member Pauletta Hansel first found Parsley Pottery at the annual Appalachian Festival in 2019. She told me, “I love red, and their red glaze is perfect. I bought a coffee mug. The next spring, during the pandemic, my husband, Owen, and I began taking long walks through nearby neighborhoods. He discovered their shop in Carthage, and surprised me on my birthday with this vase. Christmas 2020, everybody got Parsley pottery from us! We walked the five-mile round trip to choose our gifts, but we brought the car to pick up the boxes!”
Like most everyone else, Parsley Pottery has had their struggles through the pandemic. Carol says she thanks their customers who ordered online and the occasional access to flea markets and farmers markets for getting them through and keeping the gas and electric on. They are up and running now. Parsley Pottery makes the rounds of craft and art shows. When I spoke to Carol Parsley, she said they were packing for Summer Fair at Coney Island this weekend. (Carol was sitting in Kroger’s parking lot as we spoke, if that gives you a sense of how busy she is). She told me, “We’ve been to shows in Knoxville, Ann Arbor, Nashville—all over.” And even though Parsley Pottery is “for the people,” it has made its way into the White House, the Governor’s Mansion in Kentucky, and the office of the Mayor of Cincinnati. We hope to see them back at the Appalachian Festival Mother’s Day Weekend 2022.
If you look at the pottery made by Parsley Pottery you can see the distinctly American traditions many of us associate with things like Shaker pottery or Bybee pottery in New England. The same sturdy pieces of simple clay made brilliant with design and glaze that animates traditional American art is immediately apparent. But their work is contemporary, and you can also clearly see that it is made for use. In taking stock of artistic and cultural expressions of who we were and are, the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition is thinking of people like Carol and Jason Parsley. You can view their catalogue and their work at the website below. You can also visit the studio by appointment. You will also find them at arts and crafts fairs all over the tristate region. Their schedule and contact information is on their website.
http://www.parsleypottery.com/. Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.