“Clay is in my blood. It’s literally the fiber of my being.”
This is how Brandon Cole, local creator of custom restaurant tableware, introduces his artistic journey, one that, as a tenth-generation potter, he was born into. Descended from the Coles—one of five families to establish Seagrove, North Carolina, as the pottery mecca of the U.S.—Cole walks in the shadows of masters, with ancestors whose pieces grace the halls of the Smithsonian.
While the wheel became second nature at a young age, Cole feels his work didn’t take shape until his teens, and it would take years after that for him to shake off the mostly self-imposed pressure of his pedigree.
“I learned to get away from that and pursue things for the absolute freedom of it,” he says. “I wanted to find things that were mine.”
If you view any of his restaurant sets or crackleware pots, Brandon certainly seems to be spinning his own tune. Inspired by patterns on the charred beams of a studio he was working in at the time, Cole turned to sodium silicate. By brushing a slurry on the cylinder’s exterior and applying pressure from the inside, a web of cracks forms on the vessel, producing an elegant, tactile piece.
“Now I’m creating stuff that isn’t in the vein of anything that my family has ever done. In fact, they’d look at it and they probably wouldn’t like it,” he says. “But it causes an experience. You’re called to touch it.”
It’s the experience someone has with his pieces that energizes Cole, whether it’s a bread platter for his mother-in-law or custom tableware for Chef Sean Brock. Clocking twenty-six years in the restaurant business, Cole has worked everything from line cook to front of house, even management, which he now does downtown at CAMP. His tenure at Greenville’s Husk connected him with chefs Sean Brock and John Buck (and, conveniently, his wife, Emily), and subsequent work with Adam Cooke and Table 301 has provided him with plenty of connections and know-how into what a chef finds practical.
He says he has been fortunate to work with many chefs. “For every chef that I’m creating for now, it’s something that is unique and completely unto its own,” he says. “That’s what I love about it—I don’t ever want to produce something that you’ve seen two of. Everything is going to be vastly different.”
As chef requests for custom tableware pile up (he currently has three in the works), Cole looks towards the future of Cole Pottery Design, the flagship he operates with Emily, also an artist. While future goals include a pottery studio behind the house and producing two design lines (restaurant and interior), Cole is more energized by encouraging a sense of community, whether that’s by taking on apprentices or fostering a passion for clay in his own son.
“At the end of the day, it isn’t who you are or where you came from,” he says. “You have to love what you do.”
For more on Brandon Cole and his work, visit colepotterydesign.com.
Photography by Will Crooks.