Pottery Center sheds its full-time director

The financially strapped N.C. Pottery Center in the central part of the state is doing away with its position of a full-time director to save money.

Denny Mecham's last day as a full-time employee at the center that promotes pottery-making heritage and tradition will be Aug. 15, said Tim Blackburn, the head of the center's board of directors. Mecham has accepted an offer to remain as a part-time employee until she finds another job, he said.

“She did a wonderful, wonderful job,” Blackburn said. “We just simply could not afford her any more, based upon our budget.”

Mecham, who began work at the center in May 2004, did not immediately return messages left at her office and home.

The move is based purely on finances and unrelated to a dispute among potters in Seagrove, Blackburn said. That dispute has resulted in two festivals being scheduled for the same November weekend.

Center supporters sent a letter less than two weeks ago to about 3,000 people seeking to raise $100,000, money needed after the state decided not to take over the facility this year.

The state Department of Cultural Resources had proposed that the state take over at a cost of almost $187,000 annually. But the governor didn't include that item in his budget, and the center's board has been forced to find ways to save money.

The director's salary is the center's largest expense, Blackburn said. He wouldn't divulge Mecham's salary, but the Department of Cultural Resources said it would pay an annual salary of $43,474 to a director if the center became a state entity.

“We've been told by the state of North Carolina that as long as we keep our doors open, we would be eligible for state ownership in future legislative sessions,” Blackburn said. “The only way I could figure to do that was to cut expenses. And the only way to materially reduce operating expenses was to cut our executive director.”

The center, which opened in 1998, exhibits pottery, both in changing exhibitions and in a permanent one on the history of N.C. pottery. It also has an educational mission, including pottery-making projects with elementary school students.