From the Archives: Kitchen Kinship

From the Archives: Kitchen Kinship

Known for her functional ceramics, North Carolina potter Cynthia Bringle also has a longstanding reputation as a generous host.
Cynthia Bringle in her kitchen in 1977

↑ Cynthia Bringle cooking for guests in her home kitchen in 1977, the same one she uses today. See this photo restaged below.
Photo: Courtesy of the American Craft Council Library & Archives


Across the country, Cynthia Bringle is celebrated for the functional ceramics she makes for everyday use. But at Penland School of Craft in North Carolina, she’s also known for the social gatherings she hosts regularly in her studio. While we don’t yet know how people will be gathering this year, the artist and American Craft Council fellow, 81, typically throws open houses for students every school session, where she serves an ever-popular mint tea and limeade punch. She also invites 20 to 30 friends for dinner each Christmas Eve.

“I think having a sitting area with a fireplace and a coffee/tea area filled with mugs and teapots is essential in a studio,” she says. “It’s a place for friends to stay connected, maybe resolve a thorny question or two, and enjoy each other’s company.”

In 1977, when the photo above was taken of Bringle cooking for guests in her home kitchen, she had been living in North Carolina and teaching ceramics at Penland for about seven years. Since that time, she still uses many of the pots pictured here and also has added new ones. Cabinets now cover some of the open shelves, but the maker’s joy for gathering people together over a cup of tea or a simple meal remains the same.

Cynthia Bringle in her kitchen in 2020

↑ Bringle in her kitchen in 2020. The frequent host believes that pottery is meant to be used. “I still have a Karen Karnes covered jar and Toshiko Takaezu bowls that I use,” she says. “They are not just sitting on a shelf.”
Photo: Mercedes Jelinek

These days, it’s her studio more than her home that is Bringle’s main gathering place, which makes sense, considering it’s where she produces wares ranging from casserole dishes to teapots to the “birthday bowl” she throws each year from a 25-pound bag of clay.

“All the artists I know are pretty obsessed, but you can’t work all of the time,” she says. Her solution? Martini parties. “Someone just says it’s time, and people show up, or we plan it around someone who is teaching at Penland. It is a nice time to be together.”

Jean W. McLaughlin, retired director of Penland School of Craft, serves on the American Craft Council Board of Trustees.

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